The American Bar Association just released a formal opinion to address the issues of how to ethically market legal services using a law firm website, offers examples of how problems can arise from website marketing, and provides guidance on how to avoid them.
The ABA has place a copyright on the Formal Opinion 10-457 Lawyer Websites and we will not be able to provide it to you even though we have a copy and have reviewed the materials.
Here are a few things to consider from our experience. (please do additional research on your own and review the latest versions of the U.S. Supreme Court, ABA, local bar association, and state bar association ethics rules, advertising opinions and court decisions for “up to date” compliance. This is not and should not be construed as legal advice. You should seek legal advice n these matters.
- Be sure to review all of your current and future law firm website content for violations such as false, or misleading statements.
- Ensure that your website has statements that includes who wrote the content and who is responsible for the legal website’s content. (Louisiana has already adopted this so it would be wise to add this as well.)
- Disclaimer – your law firm website should include in the disclaimer the difference between legal information contained in your website content and actual legal advice.
- Confidentiality/Privacy statements – Most law firm’s do not have a Privacy Statement and they should as a general rule of thumb when it comes to websites publicly accessible via the Web. Make sure that you explain the purpose of the contact form is to provide contact information for a follow up call from your law firm. We recommend that you specifically direct individuals nor to put any case details to avoid various legal issues.
- User Agreement – Again, added protection since it spells out the “user experience” and what terms the user must agree to or does agree to while using your website.
- Confidentiality of client information and disqualification of the lawyer due to conflicts of interest also may be implicated by website communication, according to the opinion.
- When a website visitor submits information about their legal issue, this exchange may create a “prospective client” relationship. This may depend on whether the attorney invited submission of specific details about that person’s case or on how the lawyer responds. Should a “prospective client” relationship be created between the potential law firm client and the law firm (even if the potential client does not retain the law firm) — the lawyer may have a duty to treat the specific details provided by a potential client as confidential. The law firm may also face a conflict of interest which would place prohibitions on representing other individuals involved in the same case or other legal matters.
Again, your law firm could avoid potentially harmful legal issues by posting adequate warnings, disclaimers, legal statements in order to limit, place condition or disclaim any obligation to your law firm’s website visitors. However, regardless how detailed your disclaimer may be, this protection may be set aside should the responding lawyer act or communicate contrary to the law firm’s website warnings.