Just like many other businesses, law firms rely on well-written communications to share information with existing and potential clients, and to demonstrate their expertise. When they’re done well, blog posts, website copy and email newsletters are a great way for attorneys to showcase subject matter expertise.
However, there are some industry-specific nuances anyone posting content for law firms needs to know about before publishing that first blog post or email newsletter:
1. Jurisdiction matters!
Some laws are “federal”, so attorneys who practice in areas like bankruptcy, social security, immigration or copyright laws in one state are operating under the same set of standards as their counterparts across the country.
However, there is no national set of standards for other practice areas. State laws govern criminal law, divorce and other family law matters, estate planning, real estate, personal injury, worker’s compensation and business contracts laws. To further complicate things, laws for public safety and zoning issues may be handled at the local (municipal or county) level.
Knowing whether federal, state or local law applies when publishing content is important; if the wrong jurisdiction’s laws are referenced or used as source material, the information contained in the communication may not be accurate.
2. Be aware of professional conduct rules.
The American Bar Association (ABA) created a set of model rules for attorneys, to guide conduct and uphold professionalism. Each state has adopted its own rules for attorneys and, while most states have adopted the ABA’s model rules, the unwary content creator could inadvertently violate them.
ABA Model Rule 7.1 seems pretty straightforward, essentially saying that advertising and communications must not be false or misleading. However, even an otherwise true statement could be misleading under certain circumstances. For example, a blog post referring to a previous case where an attorney got a specific result for another client could be misleading if the communication implies that the attorney can replicate the results, without disclosing the specific facts and circumstances of the cited case.
Rule 7.2 requires, among other things, that the communication include the attorney’s name and office address. It’s also a violation of the model rules (Rule 7.4) for an attorney to imply that he/she is a certified specialist in a certain practice area unless the organization providing certification is approved and is specifically named in the communication.
One of the requirements of Rule 7.5 is that a solo attorney cannot imply that he/she is part of a partnership or larger organization. So, content for a solo attorney should never include things like “our team of legal professionals…” or “the attorneys at our firm have…”
Relax: Don’t let these rules scare you. You don’t need to be an expert on the rules in order to publish great content for law firms. But knowing that state bar association rules apply, and knowing how to operate within their framework, can help you make sure content you create and post is compliant.
3. Be wary of the source.
As everyone knows, there is no shortage of information available on the internet for just about any possible subject, and that holds true for legal matters. But, in addition to confirming that content was researched and written using the laws applicable to the particular state or jurisdiction (see #1 above), it’s important to also make sure that the material cites reputable sources.
Other law firms’ websites or blog posts should never be used as the sole basis for the blog post or article’s source material. Laws change from time-to-time, so another firm’s blog post that may have been current when written can become stale and should not be relied upon. Likewise, information provided by online sources that claim to provide up-to-date legal information for all 50 states may not be entirely accurate. While those sites are generally OK as starting points for law firm content, information provided by the applicable state’s bar association or court system is more reliable.
4. Tone matters!
As with any content, the “right” tone will depend on the attorney/law firm’s preference. Some attorneys/firms prefer a very formal tone, showing their professionalism and sophistication. Others want to use a more relaxed, conversational voice, showing readers they are knowledgeable, but approachable. There is no “right” or “wrong” tone; the most appropriate tone for any particular law firm will depend entirely on the attorney/firm in question.
While creating or publishing content for attorneys and law firms has industry-specific nuances, don’t let those nuances scare you. You do not need your own law degree to generate or post successfully for law firms. When you keep these tips in mind, you will be well on your way to publishing content that will provide information attorneys’ clients and prospects need, showcase the law firm’s practice area or area of expertise, and ultimately bring in more business for the law firm.
5-Star writer Cindy D is an attorney in private practice in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, and a freelance writer. After spending 19 years in the financial services industry in various operations and compliance roles, including 2 years as the Chief Compliance Officer for a federally-registered investment adviser owned by an accounting firm, Cindy loves to write about topics applicable to financial firms, accountants, law firms as well as general business pieces.