How to Keep Your Law Firm’s Ads Legal
February 22nd, 2016 by
With the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court is on arguably on track for confusion, gridlock, and bipartisanship. This uncertainty could affect the future of affirmative action, abortion, union rights, and several other topics that are scheduled to go to court within the year. In the face of this uncertainty, we have been looking back at the famous Bates v. State Bar of Arizona ruling of 1977, which held major implications for digital marketing even before the World Wide Web was invented. In this case, the Court emphasized the benefits of advertising as a means of informing consumers of goods and services. A five to four opinion ruled that any restrictions on advertisements for legal services was in violation of the first amendment. The majority decision continued, however, to stipulate that advertisements that are “false, deceptive, or misleading, of course, [are] subject to restraint.” The opinion went on to address the grey area between perceptions of advertisements: “we recognize that many of the problems in defining the boundary between deceptive and nondeceptive advertising remain to be resolved…”
In light of this acknowledged grey area, the question is: How do you keep your online legal ads legal?
Legal Definition of Online Advertising
Online advertising is not just limited to email blasts, pop-ups, or those dreaded YouTube clips that you must watch for at least five seconds. The legal definition varies by state, but in many states, online advertising is broadly defined to include your website and maybe even social media accounts. To be safe, assume that everything you or your firm publishes online is an advertisement.
Avoid Misleading Claims
To avoid false advertisement, everything you publish must be truthful and accurate. In terms of digital content, you will want to hook readers but not make over-exaggerated claims. This might take some creativity from your digital marketing team, but misrepresentation of services could lead to legal repercussions. It’s common sense. Don’t lie.
Because state laws vary, targeted ads are a great resource a firm can use to ensure ads only appear within a certain geographical region, avoiding inadvertently breaking another state’s regulations. You should keep all of your online ads relevant and targeted to your state or area. On top of staying within the realms of your state’s advertising laws, ad targeting also helps save you money. You can avoid appealing to people outside of your legal jurisdiction and reduce waste on your advertising budget.
An image in an advertisement, whether a pay-per-click or on Facebook, needs to be creative and eye-catching. But all material published online or used in an advertisement still needs to comply with copyright laws. To ensure compliance, you can use creative commons material, join a stock photo website, pull images or graphics from a public domain repository, or ask the owner. A firm needs to get creative while staying safe.
Even though the 1977 Bates v. State Bar of Arizona ruling solidified an attorney’s right to advertise, laws regulating the legality and specifics of Internet advertisements have yet to develop. We are operating in a grey area. To stay in the clear, make sure you everything you publish online is not a misrepresentation.