I just finished reading the ABA ethical opinion for Lawyer Websites. You can read this fascinating opinion at 2:00 a.m. when you cannot sleep. Click here to read it. Thanks to attorney Susan Cartier-Liebel, Founder of SoloPracticeUniversity.com for pointing this out. I’ll boil it down for you in a nutshell:
- Tell the truth on your website, and
- Tell people who contact you through your website that your communication is not to be taken as the start of an attorney-client relationship.
Ok. I get that. It’s pretty much common sense right? I would hope so. I would hope that every attorney, in any state, would be truthful about the content they put on their website, and that they make sure they are not providing legal advice on their site or in their email communication with potential clients. The reason? You don’t want a potential client to rely on information you give to them by email or by phone since you will not know all the facts needed to give an educated legal opinion about their matter.
The ABA got into a bit of trouble when they put this opinion online. Why? They had it online for a short time and then intended to put it behind a pay-wall where it would only be available to attorneys who paid a fee to see it. Kind of defeats the entire purpose of creating these ethical opinions, doesn’t it? These opinions are designed to educate and enlighten attorneys about what is and is not appropriate ethical conduct. If the only lawyers who can see this are the ones who pay for this information, then you are leaving lots of lawyers in the dark about what the ABA considers appropriate conduct.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get right to my guidelines for creating attorney video. For those of you who regularly read my blog, you will note some similarity to a blog post I did on December 9, 2009 titled
Here now, not behind a pay-wall, are my guidelines for making ethical, educational, and informative video:
7 RULES YOU MUST FOLLOW
- You shall speak nicely of all people in your video. You will disparage no one. There are NO exceptions to this rule. Violate it and you shall suffer a slander or libel lawsuit by the offended party. Guaranteed.
- You shall provide only educational information that helps your online viewer. You would think this would be a given. It’s not. Many attorneys still think viewers want to hear where you graduated law school and whether you were on law review. They don’t. Get over it.
- You shall make your video interesting. 99% of attorney video is boring. It’s a fact. Much of the law is dull and boring. There are endless rules and regulations and case law that set parameters for what we and our clients can and cannot do. Most lawyers don’t know how to make the law exciting. Exceptional lawyers learn how to make it interesting and come to life.
- You shall NEVER provide legal advice in your video. You do not want anyone who watches your video to rely on the information you provide. Your content may be out of date by the time they watch it and if it is outdated and they act on that information to their detriment, you have guaranteed a legal malpractice lawsuit against you. If you must give legal advice, make sure to pepper your entire video with disclaimers, both verbally and in the video graphics.
- You shall know the ethical rules and regulations for your own state inside and out. Do not create any video until you are confident you know all the rules for attorney advertising. Compile all the relevant ethics opinions for your state and keep them in a folder for easy reference any time you have a question. This will be the best “insurance” you can obtain if anyone ever questions a video that you created. If in doubt about whether a particular topic is off limits, use your common sense and do NOT create that video. Find a different topic. This will save you heartache for many years to come.
- Along the lines of Rule #2, you shall not be a salesman. You are not online to sell your services, no matter what the marketing rep for your website tells you. You are not selling used cars. You are the keeper of the rules and you can disclose your legal secrets to potential clients only if they retain you. If you act as a salesman, then you are viewed as just another commodity to be bargained with. As the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to say “I get no respect.” Stop selling and start educating.
- Unless you are a game-show host in your day job, don’t act like one in your video. Instead, use video to talk to your online viewers. Show them you’re real; that you’re approachable; that you have information they need and want to know. Importantly, be yourself. Most good trial attorneys know this well. It does no good to emulate a trial attorney’s tactic that’s just not right for you. You have to be yourself, otherwise your viewers will see right through you and click over to another video.
Follow these rules and you’ll lead a path that is ethical, righteous, honest and sincere. Your online viewers will appreciate these qualities and thank you for them. Guaranteed.
If you have your own rules for lawyer video, let me know below; I’d love to hear them.