Friday, February 24, 2017

Should You Put Disclaimers on Your Legal Blog Posts?

There has been ongoing conversation and even state bars have weighed in on the topic of legal blogs, advertising, and required disclaimers. In general, state bars prohibit lawyers from advertising anything that can be misconstrued as misleading. That includes discussing previous wins on your blog.

Journalism vs. Advertising

Many have argued that legal blogs resemble journalism, rather than advertising.

In fact, Rodney Smolla, the former dean of Washington and Lee University of Law, leading First Amendment scholar, and current president of Furman University of South Carolina, stated that he didn’t ”think the mere fact that a lawyer has been involved in a case means everything a lawyer says about it is an advertisement for future clients. Lawyers talk about their own cases all the time, in public settings, publications … and members of the public are able to take that speech for what it’s worth.”

This revelation came back in 2011, when Smolla defended Virginia attorney, Horace Hunter, because Virginia State Bar brought a misconduct charge against Hunter regarding his blogs, which included previous cases his firm won, as well as local and national criminal justice topics. The state bar stated that Hunter’s blog was advertising and required a disclaimer that told readers clearly that it was an advertisement.

Hunter, on the other hand, contended that his blog was commentaries and news stories. He further argued that the state bar’s requirement to add a disclaimer to his blog posts violated his rights under the First Amendment. However, because Hunter’s blog posts referred to cases that his firm won, it seemed to the state bar that Virginia Ethics Rule 7.2 should be upheld. Virginia Ethics Rule 7.2 once said that when attorneys are discussing or listing previous cases that they have won, it should be considered advertising and a disclaimer that states that all cases and outcomes are different must be written along with it.  

Ethics Rule Deleted

However, on July 1, 2013, amendments were approved to delete Virginia Ethics Rule 7.2. This deletion puts us back to the beginning, wondering whether disclaimers absolutely, positively must be used or not. It also leaves the decision about whether or not legal blogs are considered as advertising or not up to the discretion of each individual state bar.

Some states believe that if a legal blog is attached to a law firm’s website, the blog is considered advertising because a website is a form of advertising and the blog is a part of it, rather than being a stand-alone blog. Other states believe that if certain information is discussed on a blog, such as previous case wins, that is considered advertising and should include a disclaimer. Some states say that using a “call-to-action” at the end of a blog post is advertising. All of the state bars state, in some form or fashion, in their ethics rules that lawyers should not make misleading or false statements – and simply omitting important information is enough to be charged with an ethics violation.

Needless to say, it is important to check with your state bar’s ethics rules regarding blogging and decide whether or not you should be using disclaimers on your blog. Contact Law Blog Writers if you need help building the content, as well as advice, on your legal blog.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Should Your Website and Blog Be Combined or Separate Entities?

We could list the many reasons why lawyers should have websites and the many other reasons why lawyers should have legal blog posts. The next question? Whether or not the two should be combined or function as separate, unconnected entities. Several experts have weighed in on the issue, including the California Bar, and the answer may surprise you.

Blogging is Long-Term Marketing

Let’s scoot over to the Lawyerist.com, where Sam Glover stands firm on the subject. He talks about the blog tab that “leading to a few boring, useless posts that stopped shortly after they started” or “may even have a few posts that might be interesting to someone looking for a lawyer in the firm’s practice area(s).” He points out how keywords were the main reason, at one time, to even have a law blog, but that blogging is long-term marketing.

What Sam means is that by maintaining a well-written blog, you can build readership that keeps coming back. They might not need a lawyer today or tomorrow or next week, but when they do need a lawyer, they will automatically think about you, because you have such an interesting and informative blog. In addition, you can use your blog as a media outlet, bragging about your successful cases before the media touts them. (And if you have a successful blog to start with, the media will pick up and spread the word about your successes.)

10 More Reasons

Kevin O’Keefe listed 10 reasons why a law blog should not be attached to a law firm website on Lexblog. He made several excellent points. One was that keeping your blog and website detached allows Google to display content from both separately in search results. Another superb point is that you can link to your blog from your website and to your website from your blog and improve the search engine rankings of your website drastically.

The California Bar Weighs In

The California bar has provided yet another reason to separate your blog and your website. The bar says that when lawyers use to actions such as “call us today for a free consultation,” on their blog posts, the blog and website are subject to advertising rules set forth by the bar. In fact, just by being part of the website, the firm’s website would be considered advertising by association and subject to bar advertising rules regulations. However, if the firm’s blog is freestanding, it doesn’t have any call-to-actions, and it offers educational and informational content, it would not be subject to bar advertising rules and regulations.

Of course, it is up to each and every law firm to decide whether they want to integrate their blog with their website. Whether you decide to have your blog on your website or as its own separate entity, we can help you build up-to-date content on a consistent basis. We can help you become an authority of law on the internet and improve your long-term marketing strategy at fair and competitively low pricing.

Blogging is a lot of work. If you have been struggling to keep up with your law blog, we understand. Most attorneys are just too busy to keep up a well-written and thought-provoking law blog in between court, clients, and keeping up with new prospects. Contact Law Blog Writers today to discuss your blog marketing needs.