Attorney Advertising: What’s the Difference between Educating the Public and Advertising?
Most attorneys, especially those at smaller firms, rely on referrals, networking and advertising to attract new clients. For this article we’ll address the difference between educating the Public and advertising.
Attorneys can educate the public concerning legal issues with materials that are not considered ads. Advertising is any type of communication about an attorney or firm of which the primary intent is retention of attorney or firm for financial gain as a result of the communication. Communication that is not associated with financial gain is not governed by the special rules governing attorney advertising, but it is expected that attorneys not engage in any conduct whatsoever that is fraudulent, dishonest, deceitful, or misrepresentative.
Advertising serves two purposes:
1) to inform potential clients regarding seeking legal advice for their needs
2) to enable lawyers to attract new clients by building their brand
To achieve this in an ethical manner attorney advertising must not contain any false, deceptive, or misleading information about your firm, your experience and the law.
Ultimately, there is very little difference between educating potential clients and advertising to them. As a matter of fact, many attorneys use educational materials to attract clients. The public is entitled to know about the various legal services that are available to help them in certain situations. For instance, if a person is injured through some form of medical malpractice, he or she has a right to know about their legal right to take action and seek compensation. An attorney can provide information and educate in good faith, indicate symptoms that may indicate the malpractice while also attempting to garner the individual’s business.
What are some of the important aspects of educating potential clients through advertising?
- Providing the ability to recognize when something is a legal problem. There are people who encounter situations in life and do not realize they have a right to take legal action. Attorney advertising can be an effective way to alert the public to their rights.
- Creating reasonable expectations using honest statements. Attorneys are permitted to make statements about their professional track record, but they must be factual. Generic terms such as “best” or “greatest” must be avoided when comparing services with those of a competitor because they are immeasurable. Stick with bona fide professional ratings to draw a distinction between you and your competition, but remember a disclaimer is necessary to help potential clients understand that not every case is identical.
- For those advertising online through their website, avoid using prohibited meta-tags. Meta-tags are hidden computer software codes that direct Internet search engines to a particular site. For example, if a lawyer uses the meta-tag “NY personal injury specialist,” someone searching the term “personal injury specialist” could be directed to that page. This is prohibited under Rule 7.4(a) of the NYS Rules for Attorney Advertising because of the use of the word “specialist.” A meta-tag that does not violate the rules regarding terminology would be permitted. Essentially, just because the general public cannot see the meta-tag does not mean an attorney can violate any of the rules of advertising.
In the end, your best bet is to err on the side of caution. Make factual statements in your advertising that can be backed up by data and if you believe something could potentially lead a client to believe something that is not true, do not include it.
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