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What should your law firm's website disclaimer say?
As we've pointed out recently, your website is most likely an attorney communication (unless, of course, it's your personal blog about your favorite jazz musicians). Consequently, it's governed by all the same rules that regulate attorney advertising and communications.
That means disclaimers letting people know that it's attorney advertising. But are there any mandatory magic words you have to use? Sometimes; it depends on your state, of course.
Just One State Is Enough
The Internet is global; it's a series of tubes, you know. As a result, your website, unlike your billboard, will probably end up in other jurisdictions. That doesn't mean, however, that you have to tailor your website to the ethical requirements of every single state.
The ABA Model Rules are, for a change, actually helpful. Model Rule 8.5 (which may or may not have an analogue in your state, but it probably does) says that a lawyer's conduct, if it can occur in more than one jurisdiction, will be judged according "to the rules of a jurisdiction in which the lawyer reasonably believes the predominant effect of the lawyer's conduct will occur."
So guess what: If you're a California lawyer, expecting to receive only California clients, then really you only have to make your website conform to California's rules.
On to the Fun Part...
So what about your website disclaimer? Does it have to say anything specific? Like we said, it depends on the state.
For example, in Texas, there's no mandatory language required. The only requirements are that an advertisement has to let a consumer know it's an advertisement, "conspicuously and in language easily understood by an ordinary consumer." The text of the disclaimer itself can't be set apart in teensy-point font, but "must also appear in print with equal prominence and legibility."
Alabama, on the other hand, does require mandatory language in advertisements. Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 7.2(e), requires the following language on all advertising: "No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers."
New York requires all advertisements -- including websites -- to be labeled "Attorney Advertising." Kentucky requires the statement "THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT." Here's where state law differences are super important: New York's rule requires the disclaimer only on the first page, but the Kentucky rule says that the disclaimer has to be "displayed without scrolling on the first screen of every page of a website." (We did a brief survey of some Kentucky lawyer websites, finding some in compliance, some that had the disclaimer in the page footer -- which we had to scroll to find -- and some that didn't have the disclaimer at all.)
Picayune things? They certainly can be. Is it likely that the state bar is spending its precious time on attorneys who don't put a disclaimer on every single page? Probably not. Nevertheless, it's important to make sure that your website is in compliance with state regulations, just in case.