Ethics Counsel on www.OKbar.org

Lawyer Websites

By Travis Pickens

Lawyer websites are increasingly used by all lawyers, of all ages, as their “public” face. They are used to create a public profile of the lawyer or firm, to provide information to clients and potential clients — and as simple advertising. Any of this information constitutes “a communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services” and is subject to the requirements in Rule 7.1 that all communications regarding a lawyer and the lawyer’s services must be true, and not misleading, as well as the prohibitions in Rule 8.4 (c) regarding fraud and dishonesty generally, and the 4.1 (a) requirements regarding statements to third parties when representing clients. Everything in the lawyer’s website will be deemed part of the communication so it must be entirely accurate and clear.

Here is a summary of where the current permitted boundaries appear to be:

CAN DO

• A trade name as the website domain name (for example, www.midtownlaw group.com as opposed to www.smithandjones.com)

• Name and office address of lawyers and firm (at least one lawyer or the firm must be listed as responsible for website content, so you may not simply use the trade name throughout the website without referencing a responsible lawyer or firm)

• Contact information

• Pictures/images (of the lawyers, staff, office, for example)

• Lawyer biographies (including educational background, experience, areas of practice, languages, honors, etc.)

• Firm biography (including general history, experience, honors and areas of practice, etc.)

• Mission statements

• Areas of practice and types of services

• Basis of how fees will be determined

• Prices for specific services

• Payment and credit arrangements

• Foreign language ability

• Names of references and representative clients (consent required)

• Results of settlements or jury awards (See Oklahoma Ethics Opinion 320 for restrictions. Briefly, 1) accurate 2) client consent to disclosure of confidential information and 3) disclaimer that results differ based on individual
circumstances)

• Use of the trade name of the firm

• A disclaimer that any information provided in the website is not intended to provide legal advice, nor is it intended to create an attorney-client relationship

CANNOT DO

• False or misleading information

• Inaccurate or misleading images. For example, you cannot misrepresent the location, size or appearance of your office, or mythologize your success in trial with misleading images or video clips

• If a private, for-profit firm, domain name language implying an exclusive affiliation with a bar association or governmental entity, or a public or charitable legal services organization, is prohibited.  For this reason, the suffix
“.org” should not be used

• Use the name of a lawyer holding public office during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not regularly and actively practicing with the firm

• Misleading domain names that imply universal success, like fatverdict.com, bestlawyer.com or levels of expertise unrecognized by the Oklahoma Supreme Court (as opposed to patent and admiralty law)

• Listing lawyers when their jurisdictional limitations are not provided (for example, a lawyer licensed only in another state)

• Use language or images disparaging of fellow lawyers or judges

• Use language or images that could be used to discredit the legal profession in general

SHOULD NOT DO

• Information that could be construed as specific legal advice unless it is information that would apply to every case

• An invitation to submit confidential client information unless you are prepared to honor the confidences regardless of whether you take the case

• Anything in bad taste.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- Oct.4, 2014 -- Volume 85, No. 26.

Mr. Pickens is OBA Ethics Counsel. Have an ethics question? It’s a member benefit and all inquiries are confidential. Contact Mr. Pickens at travisp@okbar.org or 405-416-7055; 800-522-8065.