Thursday, April 7, 2016
In developing websites for attorneys, we’re often asked what kinds of disclaimers should be included on a legal website. The answer to this question largely depends on the jurisdiction(s) of the firm and the local Rules of Professional Conduct. We recommend that all firms carefully comb through this information and all ethics opinions when developing a website to ensure compliance. Some states require a label on all site pages indicating that the site is a form of “Attorney Advertising.” Others are less restrictive, mandating that disclaimers may only be needed on certain pages where the information presented may confuse visitors.
While we can’t get into each jurisdiction’s guidelines in a single post, generally speaking, there are several places on a legal website where your firm should consider adding a disclaimer:
One of the primary purposes of attorney advertising is to provide information on legal services available to the public. However, in providing this information, there is an inherent risk that visitors may perceive this as legal advice. If your site contains information pertaining to your area of practice, you should consider adding a disclaimer which is visible, or can be accessed, from every page on your site. The disclaimer should explain that the information obtained at the site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You might further explain that visitors should consult an attorney for advice regarding their individual situations.
Disclaimer Preceding Testimonials/Past Verdicts
Almost every state warns that including client endorsements or a list of past verdicts in an advertisement might lead visitors to believe that they too can expect the same favorable results. Consequently, some states have banned the inclusion of such information in advertisements while others strongly advise on the inclusion of a disclaimer, or other qualifying information, to guard against confusion. If your state does allow attorneys to include this type of information in advertisements or solicitations, you should consider adding a disclaimer explaining that these testimonials or past results do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of the visitor’s legal matter.
Disclaimer with Any Contact Forms
Including contact forms on your website can be a convenient way for prospective clients to easily contact your firm for more information about representation. However, in doing so, it’s important to remind website visitors that until an attorney-client relationship has been established, confidential information should not be submitted to the firm. Whenever possible, include this disclaimer within the form so there is no doubt that visitors have seen it before submitting contact information.
Disclaimer for Foreign Languages
Very often firms advertise that they are able to provide assistance to clients who are fluent in a foreign language. In many instances, a member of the support staff, and not the actual attorney, will be charged with translating. If this is indeed the case, a qualifying statement explaining that the attorney does not have fluency in the advertised language should be considered.
Disclaimer for Bona Fide Ratings
Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, AVVO’s Client’s Choice…there are many bona fide ratings and awards for legal professionals. While most bar associations allow for the inclusion of these accolades, you may need to include information on the selection or ranking methodology as to not mislead prospective clients.
To ensure that disclaimers accomplish their intended purpose-to inform and clarify- it’s critical that the text be conspicuous. Some states even require that disclaimer text be the same size font as the largest font on the page.
Now for our own disclaimer…
While we were founded by an attorney, Zola Creative is not a law firm and this blog post is not intended to serve as legal advice for your firm. By reviewing your state’s ethics guidelines and Rules of Professional Conduct you can obtain specific information on required disclaimers and take the appropriate steps to ensure that you’re carrying out your professional due diligence in all of your online marketing initiatives.