Ethics of Lawyer Video Marketing

Every lawyer is guided by ethics rules for their own state in which they practice. We each take great pains not to step over the boundaries that the ethics committee has established for us. Unfortunately, those rules are not set in stone, and often fall in a gray area especially with the fast-moving and fast-paced Internet. Most of the established rules relate to traditional forms of attorney advertising.

Traditionally, lawyers have received a bad name because the traditional forms of lawyer advertising including TV, radio, Yellow Pages and the like have not allowed us to educate our ideal clients. Our messages were truncated and late-night comedians had great fun spoofing each of our advertisements.

As with every profession, there is a small group of people who step over the boundaries of what is appropriate. It is the obligation of every attorney to make sure that they comply with their state ethics rules in any type of advertising or marketing. Video marketing is no different. It is simply a different media upon which to educate your consumer.

I lecture to attorneys throughout the country about best practices for creating educational video to market their practices online. I remind them of two important points.

(1) Never talk about yourself, and
(2) Never, ever, establish an attorney-client relationship with the use of a video.

Let me explain. Your ideal consumer does not care about you. They make certain assumptions when they see you online. They assume you went to law school, took the bar exam and passed. They also assume that you have some knowledge and experience handling the type of law you claim to be proficient in. The only true question they want to know when searching for an attorney online is whether you can help solve their legal problem. They don’t want to hear about how great you are and how many years you have been in practice.

You never want to provide a way for a potential consumer or client to believe that they have established attorney-client relationship simply through the use of an educational video. You never want to give them advice that they incorrectly rely on- to their detriment.

Let me give you an example. Let’s assume that you decide to tell your potential clients, in a video, what the time limit is to file a personal injury case in your state. Assume that one week after that video goes up onto YouTube the legislature decides to change the statute of limitations and shorten it. One week after that, a viewer searching for information determines that the time limit is accurate based upon the information you have provided in the video. They incorrectly rely on that information and then when they decide to go forward with a lawsuit are told quite clearly that the time to bring the case has lapsed.

Their attorney then calmly asks them “What gave you the idea that you only had that amount of time to bring the case?” When the reply comes back that they obtained that information from a video you provided, it’s time to notify your malpractice carrier. Your viewer inadvertently relied on the legal information you provided in your video.

If you are so inclined to provide such information, you must always, in every instance, include a verbal disclaimer letting your viewer know that the viewer cannot rely on the information in that particular video specifically because the time limits may change after the video is posted online. That is critical.

Two more points:

1. Lawyers are never, ever, to disparage another lawyer or law firm in a video. As with text, anything you put online is permanent no matter how many times you try to press the delete button. Disparaging a lawyer, will likely result in a grievance claim as well as a potential libel or slander lawsuit against you and your law firm.

2. Since you are bound by your state’s ethical rules, you must follow them religiously. It is your obligation and not your IT person, or your videographer to know what is or is not required when creating educational video to market yourself online. As an attorney, you are solely responsible for knowing what is and is not appropriate. You would do very well to stay within those ethical guidelines.

Final tip: If you use video to educate your consumers and clients in an ethical and proper way, you will offer the highest service to your community possible. You will be providing useful content and information that otherwise is not readily available to the general public. Not only is that a noble calling but it will clearly set you apart from your competitors.

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2 Responses to Ethics of Lawyer Video Marketing

  • CJ McKinney says:

    I notice that many lawyers who have video on their websites make video entries about specific cases they are currently handling or have handled in the past. What is your view on the ethics of discussing a client’s legal matter on a video (even if you do not identify the client by name)?

    Thanks.

  • Hi CJ,
    In NY, lawyers are prohibited by our ethical rules from using client testimonials in cases that are currently active. In fact, we are required to wait until the case has resolved before obtaining a client testimonial.

    Likewise, I always advocate that you should never create a video about an actively ongoing case. My best recommendation is to talk about cases you have resolved and are no longer active.

    My best practices rule is that you should never mention the name of your client or the name of the defendants. There is simply no reason to unless of course you are discussing a public verdict and the decision has been reported in open court and/or in the media.

    Even then, the purpose of educational video is not to highlight the name of your client or a defendant. Instead, it is to let your viewers know and recognize that you have handled a case involving the type of matter they have so that they recognize that you have experience in handling that particular problem.

    You must always complied with your state’s ethics rules. Video just happens to be the media by which you are getting out your educational message. When in doubt, my best recommendation is not to do it. There should be no gray area and no skirting the line when it comes to video.

    Remember, everything you put online is permanent. You never want to be accused by anybody; your client, a defendant or the court, of having violated an ethical rule.

    Not long ago, I reviewed a video that an attorney created to badmouth his biggest competitor in town. He pointed out the stark differences between the cross-town lawyer and himself. That was a big no-no. There is never a reason to badmouth any lawyer on video. Just like most voters hate when politicians create negative campaigns, that style never works with the type of video that we create to educate our consumers. Our viewers are going online to search for information. They don’t want to see you bad-mouth another lawyer.

    Again, do not talk about current ongoing cases. Wait until your cases have resolved and make sure you do not have a gag order before discussing that type of case on video, even though you may not be mentioning the names of the defendants or parties involved.

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Testimonials

I think we shot at least 50 videos in one day, which to me was amazing. That was probably the thing I was most nervous about when you said we were going to shoot 50 videos, I thought we would be here until midnight and it’s well short of midnight when we finished. So I’m really pleased with the amount of work that we got done in one day.
I would say call Gerry. He’ll spend the time with you on the phone to talk to you about what he does. It’s not a hard sell.

Stephen Hamilton
Law Office of Stephen Hamilton