If you've handled your firm's advertising campaign, you are probably well aware of your state bar's restrictions on advertising. Though each state has its own rules, there are some general propositions that apply nearly everywhere, such as prohibitions on solicitation, required disclaimers ("The information provided herein is not to be relied upon..."), and restrictions on the use of the term "specialist."
While the state bar might be your biggest fear, they aren't the sole source of advertising regulations. The Federal Trade Commission also has a number of rules that must be followed. Lawyers should be particularly aware of their guidelines for testimonials, endorsements, and social media advertising.
Testimonials and Endorsements
Respect the Context
This restriction should be obvious. When using quotes or testimonials in advertising, you should adhere honestly to the context of the original statement. For example, if a client were to leave a review that stated, "Funny, good-natured, and knows her stuff but was too disorganized to meet deadlines and return calls. Almost cost me my case," you wouldn't be able to shorten that to "Funny, good-natured, and knows her stuff."
Like we said, it should be obvious, but then again - we are lawyers.
"Results Not Typical" Isn't Enough
This is a particularly important provision. We've all seen those terrible late night commercials with client testimonials. "I was crossing the street and a car hit me. Swindler & Shyster got me a million dollars for my pain!" Lots of these commercials have the familiar refrain of "Results not typical." The problem is, studies show that despite that little disclaimer, consumers still expect those results.
The FTC recommends a disclaimer that details typical results, such as, "Our typical case settles for enough money to cover your hospital expenses and our Maserati's maintenance costs. Your results may vary." Don't forget to incorporate bar-required disclaimers as well.
Broadcast the "Bribes"
If you pay - say. It's as simple as that. If they are paid actors, that must be disclosed. If actual clients are used, and were paid for their appearance, that must be disclosed.
Earlier this month, the FTC also updated their rules for "Dotcom Disclosures." The short version of the rules is that the "broadcast the bribes" disclosures are required in social media, including tweets, and those disclosures should be clear, concise, and likely to be seen. If it doesn't fit (like on Twitter), you must link it. Our Technologist blog has more on the updated rules.
Does it Matter?
Statistically? Probably not. If you are a small or solo firm, you're probably too small of a fish for the FTC. They tend to go after large corporations, like Nordstrom's. Still, considering the disclaimers that you'll already be doing to comply with your local Rules of Professionalism, what's a few more words, right?
- 5 Cheap (or Free) Ways to Market Your Legal Practice (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Law Firm Branding: Know Your Target Audience and Adjust (FindLaw's Strategist Blog)
- The Benefits of a Law Blog (or Blawg) (FindLaw's Strategist Blog)