I am thrilled that the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 recommends no new restrictions on online lawyer marketing. They have caught up to 2011 and realized what we already knew -- that rules governing offline marketing also apply online.
The enlightened Commission recognized that prohibiting Internet and other forms of electronic advertising would actually impede the flow of information about legal services to the public. This is very refreshing to hear.
It appears the Commission listened to the deluge of comments they received in September 2010 regarding their initial exploration of regulating Internet based client development tools. All the people I talked to about it took the view of “hands off the Internet.”
Their proposed revisions of the Model Rules are actually helpful. In Model Rule 1.18, the commission recommends that lawyers post warnings or cautionary statements on their websites and online communications – which most law firms do already.
Clarifying Rule 7.2 against paying others to recommend a lawyer, the Commission defined a “recommendation” as endorsing a lawyers’ credentials, abilities or qualities. The helpful part is where the Commission says this rule does not apply to Internet ads – even those annoying pop-ups – and it does not apply to paying others to generate clients leads, such as internet-based client leads – which is a major step forward. The economy is bad enough for lawyers and they need to be able to advertise and purchase leads now.
Finally they define the ambiguous term “solicitation” in Rule 7.3 to be a targeted communication at a specific potential client. This means that banners ads, websites and other communications to the general public do not constitute a solicitation.
This is good news indeed.