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Basic Ethics For Lawyer Advertising
Lawyers have several sets of rules to consider when creating advertisements. The FTC regulates all advertising in every state; each state may have its own regulations governing advertising; and the attorney ethics rules of the state in which you are advertising will regulate lawyer advertising. A review of FTC rules can be seen at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/guides.htm.
Most rules are just plain common sense and are meant to protect the public. Some state lawyer ethics rules go further. For instance, some rules are meant to protect the image of lawyers. In the past, lawyer ethics rules have been more restrictive, however, they have been slowly eroded by both State and U. Supreme Court decisions. Because they have been losing ground, state regulating bodies have have become complacent. Consequently, lawyer advertising has continued to evolve and today there are many lawyers advertising without even thinking about ethics rules. It is at this point that the enforcement wave may return. Where the violation is minor, it is unlikely that any action will be taken, but when a lawyer advertisement contains a major ethical violation, authorities will have no choice but to attempt to exert their control. If they do nothing, there will be no need for rules. They may as well take their chances in court. Ethics rules have been slow to keep up with changing times. I believe that some ethics rules, such as requiring that your local office address appear in the advertisement, may become unenforceable and should be eliminated. This rule may have originally intended that clients should have the means to find your office address if your telephone number changed or to determine if your office was geographically convenient for them.
This rule no longer makes sense. Use of a toll-free telephone number ensures that your telephone number will never change even if you move your office. According to Nielsen/Net Ratings, in February 2004, 74.9% of households had Internet access. Telephone companies are now offering high-speed Internet access and electric utility companies are now able to offer high-speed Internet access simply by plugging into an electric socket. According to New American Library, computers are now outselling TVs. In a very short time, every home in the US will not only be able to have Internet access, but high-speed Internet access and can easily access a lawyer's web site and determine the office address. Lawyer advertisements can include a web site address where a potential client can find the lawyer's contact information. Requiring the lawyer's office address in a TV commercial, effectively prevents smaller lawyers from joining group advertising where smaller budgets are combined to effectively compete against wealthier lawyers. There simply is not enough room in the TV commercial to list the address of every lawyer.
With regard to the public's need to know if a law office is near them, this is the least important qualitative factor that a client should consider. Instead of looking for a lawyer who is a couple of blocks away, a potential client should look for other factors such as experience with the client’s problem, personality, etc. Many times, clients and patients are willing to travel from the suburbs to the city to find a lawyer or doctor because of the perception that professionals in the city are more competent. Additionally, upon making a call, the caller can simply ask for the address of the office. For your state’s ethics rules, see ABA Links to State Ethics Rules Governing Lawyer Advertising, Solicitation and Marketing at http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/clientdevelopment/adrules.html#. For a list of resources and articles on ethics and lawyer advertising, see http://www.hurt911.
org/lawyer-advertising/lawyer-advertising-tips-articles.html Below is a short list of what I believe are some of the most important ethics rules to consider when creating attorney advertising: 1) Referrals: If you pay money to anyone and a client is referred to you, you are probably obtaining an illegal referral, unless the referral is from a Bar Association. Advertising involves a risk. The risk is that you may pay for advertising and may not sign up any clients. If you are offered a guarantee that you will sign up enough cases to cover the cost of advertising, this guarantee turns your advertising campaign into an illegal referral system. If you are considering working with an advertising agency that offers a guarantee, have an ethics lawyer review the guarantee before you work with that agency. If you work with an advertiser or an agency, make sure you are actually paying for advertising and not for the cases. Beware of advertising schemes where "someone" offers to send you clients which have been obtained without advertising and offers to bill you on their "advertising agency" bill head for advertising services or consulting services. Several lawyers and doctors, I have spoken to, mistakenly believed that if they have a bill for advertising, it’s legal.
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