In 2018, the American Bar Association (ABA) finally updated its Model Rules for Professional Responsibility regarding attorney advertising. There was no immediate impact: Until states adopted the new Model Rules, they are nothing more than recommended guidance.
Now, a couple of states have adopted the new rules for attorney advertising. While there is still a long way to go, the movement has begun.
3 States Adopt New Model Rules on Attorney Advertising
The ABA released its new rules for legal marketing in August, 2018. It took nearly a year for Connecticut to be the first state to adopt them, in July, 2019. Another year passed before a second state, Iowa, adopted the new rules in August, 2020. North Carolina followed suit in April, 2021, though with some variations to the Model Rule.
Virginia’s ethical rules dealing with attorney advertising are also similar to the Model Rule. However, that is because the Model Rules actually incorporated some language from the state’s code of conduct.
For the most part, though, states continue to use the old version of the advertising rules, despite the fact that these come from the 1980s.
What this Means for Your Law Firm
Obviously, if you practice law in North Carolina, Connecticut, or Iowa, you will need to adapt your marketing strategies to comply with the new rule set.
The good news is that the revised Model Rule, for the most part, skirts around online marketing. As we detailed in one of our first posts on the changes, New Rule 7.3 deals with the solicitation of clients. However, it defines “solicitation” as “a communication… that is directed to a specific person.”
The very first comment to the New Rule makes it clear that statements “directed to the general public” are not “solicitations” that are covered by the Rule. This includes websites.
However, that is not the end of the story. The revised rules revamp how lawyers can claim a specialty in a given field of law – including how they can lay claim to a specialty online.
Before, Old Rule 7.4 let lawyers say that they were patent lawyers or admiralty lawyers, or that they were specialists in another field if they were certified by an accredited organization and listed that organization in their claim.
Those bright-line rules are gone in the revisions. New Rule 7.2(c), which subsumed Old Rule 7.4, does away with the whole patent and admiralty thing and focuses on the part that requires certification by an approved organization.
If you practice law outside one of these 3 states, the trend is still worth paying attention to. As more states sign on to the new ethical rules governing attorney advertising, more are likely to follow suit.