State Bar Letter
Lawyer Web Marketing On Caffeine Newsletter Series
By: Rod Foster
President of RF Marketing Group
In This Issue: Dealing with the Dreaded State Bar Letter
I have worked with, had dinner with, shared many laughs with, and been good friends with lawyers for more than two decades. I call many of you my friends. One thing that I have learned is that there is almost nothing that a lawyer dreads more than receiving a letter from your State Bar threatening a penalty or sanction. No self-respecting lawyer wants a trouble from their State Bar. You can’t afford it. Your reputation is everything.
This fear prevents many of you from venturing into an aggressive internet marketing campaign.
How can you effectively market your services on the internet without getting hammered by your State Bar?
You fix other people’s problems for a living. You look out for your clients. But who is looking out for you? I am.
In this issue I am going to give you a couple of very valuable tips on making sure that your website is STATE BAR COMPLIANT.
Get the Facts:
Most States have good common-sense rules when it comes to lawyer advertising. But I know that many of you have not bothered to check out your State Bar adverting rules in a while. Take the time read your State Bar advertising rules. It won’t take much time to do. Once you are familiar with the rules, then you plan your marketing strategy with in the framework of those rules. This will pay off big time in the future when your competition, “TATTLES” on you (and they will) and you receive the dreaded letter. First, know the rules and make sure that your website is compliant. It is really easy to make a website complaint so don’t sweat this step.
One of the biggest violations that State Bars really hate is a comparative statement:
“we are the best”, “I am the top”, “I am number one”. This is obvious to most of you, but I have to throw that in for the few of you who go over the top. In most states, if you can quantifiable prove that you are number one at something, then you can probably say it. But there are so many other ways to compliment your services with out sounding “braggy” (not a word but you know what I mean). Comparative statements usually turn potential clients off. You will come off as being arrogant, that the universe revolves around you, and not your client’s problem. You want to focus your website text on proving that you can solve your client’s problem. Comparative statements are a marketing mistake and a State Bar no-no. Don’t use them.
State boards get really picky about this one. If your state has a “Specialty Certification” or “Board Certification” program, then it is almost a guarantee that they will be picky about how you use this in your website. NEVER say that you “specialize” in a practice area unless you are certified by your State Bar in that practice area. Instead, say that you “focus” your practice in that area, or that you are “experienced” in that area (if you are). There is always a way to re-word something to get your point across and not violate your State Bar rules.
FYI: Also, many states are very picky about mentioning that you ARE board certified. I remember speaking with a very prominent Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer about this. His State Bar wrote “the dreaded letter” to him because he didn’t mention that he was board certified in his website. Go figure!
This should be obvious, don’t lie. Duh! Every State Bar in the country will zing you for this one. But what often happens is that people get lazy and “scrape” or copy content from other lawyers’ websites. What may be true for one lawyer may not be true for you. Don’t copy other lawyers’ websites. Get ideas from them, but write your own website text so that you don’t get a bad mark by your State Bar for an unintentional misleading statement.
Responding to the Dreaded State Bar Letter
One of my clients put a picture of a magazine cover on his home page. The magazine cover said “Best Lawyers” and the article inside mentioned my client’s name. One of his competitors tattled on him to the State Bar. He got the dreaded letter from the Bar that said, “NO COMPARATIVE STATEMETNS ON YOUR WEBSITE”. I told him not to fret about it because the magazine cover was a third party endorsement. He wasn’t saying he was one of the best lawyers, someone else was. That is freedom of speech. I suggested that the State Bar would be reasonable (they usually are) if he would explain his point of view. So he respectfully wrote a letter back to the State Bar asking for an explanation of the rule. As soon as he showed his side of he issue, the State Bar looked into his side of the story and made a ruling that the magazine had done a fair job at polling a large enough group of lawyers. The result is that the cover of the magazine is on his website to this day.
Let’s assume that you have done your job right, and you follow all of your State Bar rules. Then your website starts to perform well and you start to get new clients from it. Now your competition starts to notice your website and they INSTANTLY become jealous. A few of them (only the bad ones…you would never do this) will even pick apart your website to find a STATE BAR VIOLATION. They find a picky point and they report you to the State Bar.
Then, you receive a letter (they almost always send a threatening letter). AND YOU FREAK OUT!!!!!
Stop. No big deal. You did you homework. You read the State Bar rules. You didn’t make any comparative statements; you didn’t make any misleading statements. Your State Bar representative probably sent you the letter just to get the goober who tattled (I mean that in the nicest possible way) off of his or her back.
If you get the letter from your State Bar, here is what you do:
1. Respond Immediately - do not procrastinate when your State Bar sends you a threatening letter. That will only tick them off and you will not stand a chance of changing their mind. If the letter clearly states a violation of State Bar rules (often happens when the rules change), then quickly make the change to your website and send a message back that you are in compliance. The problem usually goes away immediately. If you question the validity of the complaint, you should think through your objection thoroughly and then quickly respond to the complaint.
2. Be Polite: It goes a long way. Whether your site is in clear violation of the rules or you are going to challenge the letter, make sure that you tell them that you intend to comply with their decision. Remember, they hold your license to practice law in one hand, and a pair of scissors in the other.
3. Comply with the State Bar decision: If the complaint against you was a result of a competitor’s “tattle” then you stand a pretty good chance of getting the entire issue reversed. If you can’t get the decision reversed and the decision goes against you, then comply immediately and make the necessary change your website. Some of my clients get upset at this point and start to yell expletives all around their office because their “ENTIRE MARKETING STRATEGY IS RUINED”. That is just not true. Comply with whatever the State Bar tells you. You WILL find a “work-around” to the problem. There are literally hundreds of successful marketing strategies on the web. If one avenue becomes closed for you, just go down another avenue. If you are creative and constantly looking for new ways to market your law firm, your competition cannot shut you down by tattling on you to the State Bar
Getting a letter from your State Bar is not as scary as it first appears. Do your homework to make sure your site is compliant with your State Bar rules. Don’t freak out when you get a letter from the bar. Either quickly make the change and communicate to back to the Bar that you are compliant, or send a respectful letter questioning the ruling and then comply with whatever decision they make.
As always, if there is a service that we can provide for you don’t hesitate to call.
Have a successful marketing day!
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