The Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility of the ABA has published a formal opinion, which provides guidance to lawyers who use websites to advertise.
The relevant portions of this opinion are summarized as follows:
1. Information about lawyers, their firm, or their clients: Lawyer websites are considered “a communication about the lawyer or lawyer’s services.” Therefore, lawyer websites are subject to Model Rule 7.1, 8.4(c), and 4.1(a), together of which can be interpreted to mean that no websites may be false or misleading.
2. Information about the law: Lawyers may offer accurate legal information that does not mislead reasonable readers. This information must be accurate and current, and thus must conform to Model Rule 7.1, 8.4(c), and 4.1(a).
3. Website visitor inquiries: These inquiries must conform to Model Rule 1.18 , which imposes a duty to the lawyer when approached by a prospective client. A prospective client is defined as “a person who discusses with a lawyer the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship.” The opinion focuses on the specific issues of email and prospective clients, and urges lawyers to make sure that special attention is paid to the fact that a lawyer-client relationship may be formed via a website inquiry.
4. Warnings or cautionary statements intended to limit, caution, or disclaim a lawyer’s obligations to website visitors: Statements on the lawyer websites clarifying any misunderstandings between the lawyer and potential client may be helpful to avoid the creation of a lawyer-client relationship as well as to avoid the issue of reliance on advice that a potential client may receive.
While this opinion does not outright address the issue of blogging, as this post addressed, lawyer blogs in, at least some situations, are undoubtedly advertising. Therefore, where the blog is classified under the advertising umbrella, I believe that these rules provide valuable guidance for blogging lawyers. Even though, at times, the rules may not fit exactly under the blog umbrella, I would suggest that lawyers be “better safe than sorry.” Put another way, when i doubt, lawyers should err on the side of caution until the ABA adequately addresses the issue of blogging.