Marketing Tips For Lawyers: How Can You Maintain Client Privacy While Marketing Your Business In 2016?
by Tyson Downs
There are plenty of attorneys on social media promoting their practice. Whether it’s a platform like Twitter or LinkedIn, it’s important to have a digital presence. Many lawyers online have embraced the tools that are available and are doing what’s necessary to maintain visibility. But legal professionals need to be aware that ethics regulators have started to take notice.
What are the risks with Internet Marketing for Law Firms?
Suppose you’re conducting a marketing campaign on your Facebook page. Legal ethics regulators will be looking at why you’re doing it and how you’re doing it. So it’s important to pay attention to the changes in rules of professional conduct and opinions about ethics to ensure that you maintain client privacy.
These lawyer marketing tips are based on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) and focuses on ethical lapses that may occur when you market your practice. However, this information is from a general perspective, so it’s a good idea to take a closer look at the ethics rules and opinions that have been adopted by specific jurisdiction(s) where you’re licensed to practice.
Client Privacy – Why does it matter?
Privacy laws cover all aspect of commercial enterprise whether legal or not. It deals with personal data and how that data is used, stored, regulated, and protected.
Privacy law is multi-dimensional, so if you’re collecting information about your clients, employees, or your competitors, privacy law will impact your practice. The same rules come into play when you engage in legal marketing.
For example, if you’re using a particular family law case to promote your law office on social media, you can’t in any way or form, identify the client or be in a situation where people can quickly identify the client from your example (without written permission).
On the other hand, if you’re practicing personal injury law and you’re collecting data via your website, security protocols have to be in place to protect and store the data. Further, Health Information Privacy Accountability Act (HIPAA) can also have an impact on your practice if insurance or medical treatment is discussed in your ad or blog.
When you’re collecting data, it’s also a good idea to be up to date with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) if you’re dealing with clients who are minors. Further, since we’re talking about privacy laws, you should also consider the CAN-SPAM Act which deals with how businesses can collect, use, or sell collected personal data.
Why should attorneys pay attention to client privacy?
Legal professionals should know everything there is to know about privacy, right? Yes, there are attorneys that are experts in the field, but if you’re practicing other aspects of law, there might be occasional lapses law firm's marketing strategy.
The nature of the business is focused on privacy and as a result, attorneys are usually sensitive to confidentiality when it comes to storage of data on computers, networks, and mobile devices. However, depending on the type of practice you run, activities like social media may open doors to lapses in maintaining client confidentiality.
Below are seven tips to help you maintain client confidentiality when marketing your law office in 2016:
1. Posts on Social Media May be Considered to be Legal Advertising
Legal advertising isn’t limited to banner ads, bus benches, or billboards. In many jurisdictions your firm’s website and individual attorney profiles on social media may be deemed to be legal advertisements.
So if you’re running a legal blog, LinkedIn profiles, or Facebook pages, they may also constitute legal advertising. Many states are now overhauling their advertising rules when it comes to attorneys and their websites and social media accounts. So it’s a good idea to stay on top of the privacy laws within your jurisdiction.
2. Avoid Disclosing Privileged or Confidential Information
When you’re engaging in social media discussions or posting on your blog, there’s a potential to get caught up in the moment and slip up. But as always, it’s your duty to protect the identity of present and past clients.
Many of us will post information about our work life or something that happened during the course of a day. So even if your profile’s on a “private” setting, you can still unintentionally reveal the identity of a client without their written consent.
For example, say you appear in court on a DUI case. Your client goes ahead and geo-tags you at court with them on Facebook. You later discuss a specific aspect of the case without revealing any client information on your personal status at the end of the day.
But as a result of the previous geo-tagging that was done by your client, it will be easy for others to put two and two together and realize that it was this individual with you for the DUI hearing. So the client’s identity and the type of case have been compromised.
As a result, attorneys need to take extra care not to inadvertently disclose sensitive information. It might also be a good idea to set your profile preferences not to allow geo-tagging or tagging in pictures without your authorization.
3. Don’t Make Any Misleading or False Statements
Sometimes, especially with a PPC campaign (Google Ad or Landing page) internet marketing for law firms can have exaggerated statements to grab the attention of prospective clients. But this can lead you into murky waters as these statements can be viewed as misleading or downright false.
As a result, it’s a good idea to stay in control of your marketing campaigns both online and offline to ensure that you haven’t violated any ethical prohibitions.
For example, some states won’t allow you to list yourself as an expert on online platforms. Further, there also some cases, like in the State of New York, where you can’t list your practice areas on social media under the heading “specialties” without certification to prove that you’re a specialist.
4. Don’t Engage with Represented Parties
Anyone in the field knows that they’re not allowed to communicate with anyone who is represented by counsel without the consent of the representing lawyer. This rule still applies when you use social media as well.
This prohibition also covers your entire office, so law office employees have to be reminded of it often as well.
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For example, you wrote a blog (incorporating SEO keywords to optimize local search results) about divorce law and trends in your county to drive traffic to the website. An opposing party or an individual that you know who is represented by another attorney starts commenting and asking questions. If you respond and provide answers to their questions, accept a friend request, or engage in a discussion, there is a pretty good chance that you are violating regulations.
Further, there is a chance of the individual revealing privileged information when engaging in a discussion with you, so it’s best to avoid all contact in this situation.
5. Practice Caution When Engaging with Unrepresented Third-Parties
When going through this list of lawyer marketing tips a lot of the information will be familiar to any practicing attorney. But how much of this information will be in the forefront of the minds of staff members?
Lawyers and law office staff members always need to maintain caution when communicating with third-parties via email. For example, you’re running an email marketing campaign to promote your family law practice. You ask staff members to make a list of email addresses for the proposed Mailchimp campaign. For whatever reason your staff members also look up third-parties from on-going cases to target. If you’re unaware that your staff had done that, you can potentially put yourself in a lot of trouble.
So it might be a good idea to discuss client privacy in all its dimensions with office staff on a regular basis. Further, you can even develop a checklist for them to go back to and review to maintain compliance.
Further, keep in mind that some attorney marketing ideas can involve making direct solicitation via social media. But if there isn’t an established attorney-client relationship with a certain individual, you might be making a prohibited solicitation.
6. Always Look Out for Potentially Unauthorized Practice Violations
Social media is a great marketing tool that you should take advantage of, but legal professionals should always be aware that the platform is open to the whole planet (or anyone with an internet connection).
If you’re engaging with various individuals (not attorneys) on social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter, you might be subject to not only the ethics rules of your jurisdiction, but the ethics rules of their jurisdictions as well.
So as a rule of thumb, it’s important to maintain caution when engaging in social media activities for marketing or personal use (again a reminder checklist might help).
7. Be Cautious when Dealing with Endorsements, Testimonials, and Ratings
There are loads of review sites these days like Yelp and Avvo. Even social platforms like LinkedIn allow endorsements. One thing to note here is that these websites and sites like them are mostly designed with a one-size-fits-all functionality.
The rules may differ from industry to industry, but you have to always be aware of the rules that govern your field. Also, be sure to check the rules in your jurisdiction as some jurisdictions heavily restrict the use of endorsements and testimonials for attorneys.
Reviews and testimonials are a great marketing tool, but avoid using statements that can be misleading or misunderstood. Further, even though the review or testimonial was written by a current or former client, you’re responsible for what appears on your LinkedIn or Yelp profile.
So make an effort to pay attention to any endorsement or testimonial that you use to ensure that it complies with privacy and ethics rules in your state. If it doesn’t, you will have to find a way to remove it from your profile.
These seven attorney marketing tips may make you apprehensive to engage in marketing activities, but despite the risks digital marketing and social media promotions have the potential to significantly enhance the number of clients walking in through the door.
It’s also important to note that engaging in digital marketing is essential to be visible to potential clients. For example, if a potential client does a local search for an attorney and your name doesn’t come up, you lost a client!
As a result, your attorney marketing ideas should incorporate digital and social media strategies to maintain visibility and properly market your legal practice. However, like technology, privacy laws are evolving rapidly, so attorneys and legal staff need to continuously keep on top of regulations to maintain client and staff confidentiality.
What’s your experience with internet marketing for law firms? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
About the Author
Tyson Downs, the owner of Titan Web Agency, has years of experience working with small businesses and helping them meet their revenue goals. Prior to starting Titan Web Agency, he freelanced in SEO and Web Design while working in the corporate world. Tyson is a graduate of Brigham Young University, the father of 5, and enjoys spending time with his family. Particularly on the baseball field.