The South Carolina Supreme Court recently reprimanded an attorney for flagrant ethical violations on his website.
The violations included:
1. material misrepresentations of fact and omissions of facts necessary to make the statements considered as a whole not materially misleading by mischaracterizing respondent’s legal skills and prior successes; falsely stating he handled matters in federal court; falsely stating he graduated from law school in 2005; and, listing approximately 50 practice areas in which he had little or no experience;
2. statements likely to create unjustified expectations about the results respondent could achieve;
3. statements comparing respondent’s services with other lawyers’ services in ways which could not be factually substantiated; and
4. descriptions and characterizations of the quality of respondent’s services.
Now the purpose of this particular post is not to debate the specificity or applicability of these particular rules. In this particular instance, it looks like these were pretty straightforward violations.
My focus is to remind lawyers that they need to oversee any work being done on their behalf, both online and offline. And of course, this means content on their websites and other distributed web profiles.
More specifically, lawyers need to review any content that is posted on their behalf, and have guidelines in place for what’s acceptable under their state’s rules.
Unfortunately, often times even lawyers who have reviewed web content being developed for them, don’t review final versions. This usually occurs when they write content themselves, and then send off to a web content editor who might “optimize” the post for the web.
These non-lawyers, being unfamiliar with these ethics rules, are likely to include words like “best”, “specialist”, “expert”, etc, in order to increase click traffic in search results.
In order to prevent these situations, there are three things that lawyers who are working with non-lawyer web support folks should do:
- Actually read your state’s ethics rules. Seems like a no-brainer, but in my experience, most don’t.
- Make sure your support people have guidelines in place and are familiar with your state’s ethics rules.
- Review final versions of content posted on your behalf before publication.
Remember, in most states, lawyers are responsible for ethics violations of non-lawyers acting on their behalf. Set clear guidelines up-front. Work with people you can trust. And have a review process in place.