When you see a lawyer advertising online, what’s your reaction? Do you wonder what their practice areas are and how much business they’re getting? Or do you wonder whether they know that lawyers shouldn’t advertise?

If you fall into the second category, you have plenty of company.  A range of attorneys all over the country believe that advertising their professional services is gauche at best and unethical at worst.

They have history on their side. For the first 200 years of the profession’s history in the United States – not counting when the US was still a British colony – legal advertising was prohibited. It wasn’t until 1977 that the US Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to forbid professional advertising because doing so violated the right to free speech.

We may be more than 40 years past that landmark decision, but many lawyers still have mixed feelings about advertising. They tend to feel that if they do their job well, they won’t need to advertise.

What does word of mouth mean in 2019?

Before the internet age, client recommendations used to be one-on-one, between friends or associates. According to the ABA Journal, as quoted by iMarc, 33 percent of potential clients start their attorney search online. If clients have trouble finding information about you and your practice, they may start to wonder if you’re lagging behind the times in other ways.

Meeting the needs of 21st-century clients

Because so many people search for legal services online, digital marketing helps you be available when clients need you. This very argument, minus the digital component, was part of what drove the 1977 Supreme Court decision. According to Justice Harry Blackmun, “the absence of advertising may be seen to reflect the profession’s failure to reach out and serve the community.”

Digital natives enter the legal profession

Attorneys that enter the profession today are generations removed from the ban on lawyer advertising. They’ve grown up seeing ads for lawyers on billboards, on television, and even on the sides of city buses.

Some of these younger lawyers shy away from online advertising, preferring the face-to-face world of personal networking. But there are many more that are at home with social media and understand its role in building a practice.

Raised on Instagram and Snapchat, these attorneys are more than comfortable using sites like Avvo and Lawyers.com to get clients. That means that they’re controlling the content that potential clients see.

Safeguarding clients’ best interests

To serve the 21st-century legal client, attorneys must list and promote their services online. Fortunately, state-level regulators have and continuously review lawyer advertising restrictions. For example:

  • Speakers in commercials must usually be attorneys or be specified as non-attorney spokespersons.
  • Attorneys may not guarantee results
  • Shocking or manipulative images are usually prohibited.

These regulations let the legal profession protect the consumers of its advertising, just as it has been protecting clients for generations.

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