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ABA Approves Ethics Rule Changes on Online Marketing

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Online marketing isn't a new technique but the ABA has just caught up to the trend. That means it will be easier for lawyers to use these tools from now on.

New Model Rules approved on Monday cover common marketing techniques like online lead generation, online communications, and client information submissions via a website.

Using these methods was previously accepted and some lawyers did participate. The new rules give clearer guidelines about what behavior is acceptable and what might lead to an ethical dilemma.

The changes cover issues of client generation that can come up with online marketing and deal with managing expectations.

Changes to Rules 1.18 and 7.3 deal with communications between a lawyer and a potential client. It expands the definition of who is a potential client to include people solicited online either with live chat or in the absence of direct contact, such as through an online form.

If you solicit clients online, appropriate disclosures are necessary to avoid creating a lawyer-client relationship before you're ready to take on the client.

Rules 7.1, 7.2, and 5.5 have also been changed to expand a lawyer's duty of honesty.

Attorneys now have a duty to the public rather than just to prospective clients when it comes to not misleading or misrepresenting facts. Rule 7.2 specifically covers the safeguards necessary when using a lead generating website such as Groupon or Legal Match, according the ABA Journal.

Any lead generator you use must follow certain guidelines in terms of advertising lawyer services. Websites that don't fit within these rules are best avoided.

Online marketing is an important tool for any law firm but especially for smaller offices who can now more easily reach a large audience. Getting it right can be the key to success so rely on an expert to make sure the work is a true reflection of your capabilities.

Marketing ethics aren't a new part of the ABA Model Rules but additions that target online interactions make it easier to avoid problems. Take advantage of the relative clarity by improving your online image.

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