The Louisiana Supreme Court has adopted some of the most complex and indecipherable advertising rules in the country. Many advertising lawyers struggle to understand the rules when creating and submitting their own advertisements. I have complied our top ten most frequently asked questions about lawyer advertising to guide advertising lawyers through these complicated and difficult to understand rules.
Can I just run my advertisement, or must I submit it to the Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA) for approval?
The rules require advertising lawyers to submit most advertisements to the LSBA for review and approval. Of course, there are some exemptions to the filing and review rules such as gifts and promotional items, office signs, internet advertising, very basic ads falling within the “safe harbor” provisions, and written communications mailed only to other lawyers.
It is not difficult to submit your advertisement to the LSBA. First, create the content of your advertisement. Second, log into your LSBA account and fill out the Lawyer Advertising Filing Form online. This process will generate a LSBA filing number for you. Make sure to include this number on your advertisement. You will need to print, sign, and date the filing form. Then mail the form, your check, and a copy of your advertisement to the LSBA for review.
I will submit my advertisement to the LSBA, but can I move forward with running it or must I wait to receive the LSBA’s evaluation of my advertisement?
Louisiana lawyers may publish their advertisement simultaneously with filing the advertisement with the LSBA. But be careful. If you are going to go this route, and your advertisement does not comply with the rules, you could face professional discipline. It is recommended to either closely study the lawyer advertising rules or consult with ethics counsel before publishing the advertisement if you do not want to wait to receive the LSBA compliance evaluation.
I got the filing number from the LSBA and included it in my advertisement. But I ran my advertisement last week before I had time to mail the form and advertisement to the LSBA. What can I do?
The rules allow for late filing of lawyer advertisements. You still must mail in the filing form and a copy of the advertisement. You will need to include a check for $275 (instead of the normal filing fee of $175) due to the late filing.
Does my advertisement need an LSBA filing number?
Probably but it just depends on what information you include in the advertisement and the medium that you intend to publish the advertisement. For example, most billboards and TV commercials will need a LSBA filing number. As of now, however, Internet advertisements on social media do not.
What about the Internet? That is where I do most of my advertising these days.
For the most part, the lawyer advertising rules were not drafted with internet advertising in mind. There are special rules for websites, but the majority of the advertising rules are not easily applied to Internet advertising. This is because Internet advertising is so different than traditional TV and billboard advertising. Right now, neither the LSBA nor the ODC aggressively investigate or regulate lawyer advertising online. Certainly, you do not want to be the “test case” for when the LSBA and ODC decide to turn their attention to online lawyer advertising. Be creative but be careful.
I put a billboard up last year that says “I’m ready to fight for you” before the Louisiana Supreme Court amended the rules on the filing number. The billboard is still up. Am I exempt from having to include the filing number requirement?
No. Even older advertisements that are still available and being published, such as TV and radio commercials or billboards, need to have the filing number included. But you do not need to chase down every copy of the magazine that published your advertisement last year and write the filing number on it. That would be impossible!
I want to run ads with client testimonials. I can pay actors to appear as clients in my ads, right? Also, most of my ads include stock photos pulled from the internet. Is this a problem?
Lawyers can include client testimonials or paid actors portraying clients in their advertisements. However, the rules require that the lawyer include disclaimers such as “results may vary” and “paid non-client actor.” Further, lawyers may use stock photos pulled from an online database. The rules do require, however, that the lawyer include a disclaimer such as “stock photo” or “dramatization” when the photo is not actual or authentic. If you already have a billboard up but forgot to include that disclaimer, you can put a legible sticker on the billboard with the disclaimer on it to bring your advertisement into compliance with the rules.
I want to let my prospective clients know that I can definitely help them if they hire me. I can say that, right?
Lawyers must be very careful with the language they use when communicating that they may be able to help their clients. Do not promise results or create unjustified expectations. Instead of saying “I can, and I will, get you all the money you deserve,” try instead “We want you to get the money you deserve…I’ll fight for it for you.”
What about directly calling or writing a letter to someone that I know needs a lawyer to represent them and trying to sign them up as a client?
A lawyer cannot solicit employment from a prospective client in person or through the phone when a significant motive for the lawyer’s contact is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain. Lawyers can, however, send unsolicited emails and written communications to prospective clients so long as the communications satisfy the advertising rules….and there are a lot of rules governing unsolicited written communications.
I contract with a marketing firm who handles all my advertising. The marketing firm will know and follow all these rules, right?
Wrong. Some marketing firms do know the rules, but many advertising and marketing firms are not familiar with the Louisiana rules governing lawyer advertising. As the advertising lawyer, you have an obligation to supervise these advertising and marketing personnel that are associated with your firm. You are ultimately on the hook when your name is on the advertisement as the responsible lawyer. Remember, the ODC will want to investigate YOU if you publish non-compliant advertisements—not the marketing and advertising assistant.