Legal Marketing & Advertising Ethics Compliance

If you start with the premise that law firms were only allowed to start marketing about 35 years ago (and many firms’ marketing efforts are still really in their infancy), then it should not come as a great surprise that attorneys and state bars are still trying to determine where the Rules of Professional Conduct fit into the scheme of running a successful law practice.

Since Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), in which the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of lawyers to advertise their services, the rules and regulations of attorney advertising in our own self-policing world, has had numerous ebbs and flows. There are states that have remained relatively silent (outside, perhaps, of adopting the relevant ABA Model Rules that address advertising, communication and solicitation). Others have been aggressive in developing strict rules and investing in compliance enforcement. When you combine the fluid changes of technology (especially in relation to internet marketing), the newness of advertising, and a desire to protect both the profession and the client, it is no wonder that things get confusing for the law firm seeking to be aggressive, or entrepreneurial, or simply present a solid marketing foundation.

HTMLawyers’ Micah Buchdahl is one of a small handful of ethics lawyers that focuses on issues as they relate to the complicated and murky area of law marketing. For more than a decade, law firms throughout the country—from small plaintiffs’ firms to AMLAW 100 law firms have sought Micah’s counsel on issues relating to ethics compliance in law firm marketing and advertising. Besides providing consultative guidance—either as preventive medicine, to correct an infraction, or simply to analyze a marketing campaign for possible violations, he often works with law firm marketing departments, general counsel, and outside marketing vendors (web site developers, television producers, advertising agencies, publishers) on ways to best ensure that a marketing effort is not only effective, but ethical. His perspective as a law marketing consultant combined with his experience as ethics counsel allows him to weigh the pros and cons of each campaign.

Since 2000, Micah has presented the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s annual marketing ethics program (as part of its three times per year “Ethics Potpourri” programming in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), changing the focus each year to address ethics topics that have included an analysis of U.S. Supreme Court cases, advertising ethics opinions across the country, lawyer rankings and ratings, use of social media, blogs, traditional marketing approaches and missteps, internet marketing, solicitation, multi-jurisdictional practices, and state-by-state advertising requirements as they relate to everything from pre-approvals, language limitations, disciplinary actions, and the myriad of ways a law firm can (often unknowingly) violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. He also is often a speaker on ethics issues pertaining to lawyer advertising for the American Bar Association, including participation in ABA CLE Teleconferences, the ABA Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference, ABA Annual Meetings, and Law Practice Management meetings. He is often quoted in the media discussing ethics issues in law marketing. He is a past presenter for the “Ethics and Professionalism in the Digital Age” symposium at the Mercer University School of Law. He has discussed the issues at programs for LMA and ALA chapters, as well as presented in-house CLE program on the subject at dozens of law firms throughout the country. If your law firm is looking for an independent ethics audit of marketing efforts (as related to the relevant jurisdictions), guidance in crafting an ethical program or advertisement, assistance in educating attorneys and staff, or figuring out corrective measures to address an infraction, contact us today to learn how an ounce of prevention can save you a pound of pain and embarrassment later on.

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