While you may think that you’re done with building your website and that it should already start getting visitors and potential clients, there’s one important detail you shouldn’t miss: is your website keeping up with ethical language as mandated by law? Here are some points to check your website against and ensure you don’t get into ethical violations moving forward:
Legal Information, Not Advice
Modern-day lawyers now appreciate how a website can considerably help their law firm market their professional services. More often than not, their websites will be strategically peppered with articles, posts, and content that will be focused on relevant issues around their specific practice areas. Content on these legal websites however will have the tendency to appear as legal recommendation, blurring the distinction between information and advice.
Here, lawyers should be keen about informing the readers that any information shared on the website carries a general note and should never be misconstrued as legal advice. This will avoid visitors and readers alike from assuming that they have a legally validated advice taken from your website and potentially take action based on that.
Mandatory Advertising Disclaimers
Different states will have varying regulations that govern all types of advertising for legal practitioners, including websites for law firms and for individual professional use. Coverage of these regulations will range from the requirements of including at least one name of a lawyer from the firm to requiring specific disclaimer statements to be included in the site. It should go without saying that you should be well aware of these rules and strictly follow them to the T to ensure full cooperation with the state-required laws.
Your law firm’s website will ideally attract visitors who could be potential clients and potential referrers. Note however that since your website is exclusively designed to establish a relationship with your readers where they send you an email or fill out a form to reach you, the formation of the official attorney-client connection should still be your call.
To eliminate any unnecessary confusion, you should provide cautionary statements that will explain that no attorney-client relationship has been established, that no confidential information should be asked from visitors and that any information that they provide remains confidential, and that, when a website visitor tries to contact you, you cannot be prevented from representing the adverse party.
It is not enough that your web developer includes links to the abovementioned disclaimers at the bottom of your site. It is your ethical obligation to make visitors fully aware that the website is subject to all legal terms and as such must make them glaringly obvious for them not to miss it—lawyers technically refer to this as “constructive notice.”
Make sure to have proper documentation and recording of all the legal terms and disclaimers you have your site. This should come in handy when you will be required to provide evidence that your website has indeed stayed within the ethical standards as per regulated by the law.