Marketing in regulated industries is tough. That’s especially true for legal professionals, who have to comply with a wide array of marketing regulations, all issued and enforced at the state level.
- State Regulations Multiply When You Go National
If you’re marketing your services nationally, rather than focusing on a specific jurisdiction, you’ll have to stay within the myriad guidelines active in all 50 states. Proceed with caution, while understanding that the ROI from a successful national push can be major.
If you choose to offer your counsel nationwide, you might have to water down your message and downplay your qualifications. You’ll also have to spend more time gauging the regulatory environment in each state, or monitoring the regulatory compliance of your online marketer.
Narrowing your approach to a single geographic area, on the other hand, leaves you with one set of regulations to think about, so it’s probably a better option for firms with smaller marketing budgets and solo practitioners.
That’s not necessarily a downside. Targeting a specific region (and crafting your SEO accordingly) usually results in better SERP positions, but again, we’re talking about trade-offs. If you can nail a national push, complying with all relevant state regulations while outperforming your competitors, it can translate to waves of quality leads. And, if you like the idea of offering your services nationally, you can separate yourself from the pack in another way, by devoting your site to a specific practice area or litigation that other firms are neglecting.
- If You Can’t Prove Your Qualifications, Don’t Mention Them
Every claim you make has to be substantiated. If your state certifies lawyers as specialists or experts in a practice area, and you’ve secured that certification, it’s okay to mention the qualification online. In any other circumstance, avoid calling yourself an “expert,” or comparing your qualifications to those of other attorneys, like the plague.
Certified in one state but advertising your services in other jurisdictions? Make it clear that you haven’t secured a similar certification, or a similar certification isn’t offered, in those other states.
Most states allow attorneys to say that they “focus on” or “concentrate on” a specific practice area (if that’s true), but any claims of excellence or superiority are usually prohibited.
Be clear on your admissions. Several states, including Florida, require that attorneys list the jurisdictions in which they are licensed, in addition to bona fide office locations.
- Explain Your Services Fully
Every service guarantee you offer to prospective clients should be explained clearly and completely. Work on a contingency-fee basis? Make sure your readers understand what that actually means – leaving it at “you pay nothing unless we win your case” might not be enough if plaintiffs who lose their cases are still on the hook for court costs.
It’s good practice to create a dedicated disclaimer page, spelling out every qualification in one place. You can then link to this page whenever it becomes relevant.
Note, however, that many states require a general disclaimer on your home page. In New York, for example, the homepage of an attorney’s website must be labeled as “Attorney Advertising,” along with a disclaimer to the effect that “past results do not guarantee future outcomes.”
- Contextualize Past Results
Have a verdicts and settlements page? Avoid leaving your readers with an unwarranted sense of optimism about their own case. It’s crucial to include a disclaimer explaining that any prior results in cases you’ve handled don’t guarantee similar results in the future.
Generally, a disclaimer of this sort should be included on any page that presents specific or aggregate case results, though several states also require it to provide needed context for client testimonials.
A few states go even further, spelling out the formatting that can be used in attorney advertisements. Virginia’s Rules of Professional Conduct, for example, goes into excruciating detail, dictating that a “results vary” disclaimer “shall precede the communication of […] case results” and, when the advertisement is in writing, “the disclaimer shall be in bold type face and uppercase letters in a font size that is at least as large as the largest text used to advertise the specific or cumulative case results and in the same color and against the same colored background as the text used to advertise the specific or cumulative case results.”
- The Buck Stops With You
You, the attorney, are responsible for all of the content published on your site and included in online ads. At the end of the day, you can be sanctioned for violating a state’s advertising regulations, even if you’ve outsourced marketing to a third-party.
Laurence Banville, Esq. is the founder and lead attorney at Banville Law, a personal injury firm based in New York City. You can learn more about Laurence’s practice at BanvilleLaw.com.