Many Louisiana lawyers have created websites to have an “internet presence” on the World Wide Web. While this is undoubtedly good marketing practice, it can be bad law practice if done sloppily or inattentively. Indeed, Louisiana lawyers have found themselves in trouble for, among other things, failing to supervise web designers and using improper language on a website. To avoid disciplinary problems with a law firm website, consider these dos and don’ts:
- Do realize that the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct apply to websites. Although websites are exempt from the filing and review process applicable to most advertisements, see Rule 7.8(g), they still must comply with other advertising rules, including Rules 7.2, 7.6(b), and 7.9.
- Do include the following information on your website: the name of at least one lawyer in the firm; the location of all jurisdictions in which members of the firm are licensed; the location of the firm’s office; and any intent to refer client matters out to another law firm. See Rules 7.2, 7.6 and 7.9(c).
- Don’t include any “false” or “misleading” information on your website. See Rule 7.2(c)(1)(C). This prohibition covers not only overtly false information, but also misleading meta tags and hidden text visible to search engines. See Florida Bar Advisory Opinion A-12-1 (addressing deceptive search engine optimization techniques).
- Don’t promise results, or have an actor portray a client (unless you use a disclaimer), or use a paid endorsement (unless you disclose it), or have an actor portray a lawyer. See Rule 7.2(c)(1).
- Don’t use the words “specialize,” “specialist,” “certified,” or “expert.” Instead, just describe your areas of practice. See Rule 7.2(c)(5).
- Don’t include fee information unless you also disclose information about costs. See Rule 7.2(c)(6). And if you do decide to include fee information, be prepared to honor it for at least 90 days. See Rule 7.2(c)(7).
- Don’t allow a lawyer from any other firm to pay for all or part of the website. See Rule 7.2(c)(11).
- Do supervise any nonlawyers who help you with the website. See Rule 5.3. Remember, it’s your site, not theirs.
Finally, do consider submitting your website for review by LSBA Ethics Counsel even though it’s not required. Although there is a fee for the service, it is usually worth the modest expense. And it could avoid headaches later.