Website Professionals and Lawyer Ethics

Many attorneys use non-lawyer “website professionals” to host their websites, blogs, and to draft their content. I’m not here to detract from anyone’s expertise or to tear down any particular company, and it’s not my place to say whether someone is a “website professional.” If you are an attorney and you are marketing legal services, however, you need to consider that you will be judged by the content that your ghostwriter places on your websites. When you outsource your marketing, you outsource your ethics, and non-lawyers often do not understand or care about the ethics rules that govern lawyers.

A South Carolina ethics opinion from April of this year illustrates the most common ways you can go wrong by using a non-lawyer website professional to create the content for your website and social media.

Website Ethics Violations

The attorney in question received a public reprimand that will forever appear next to their name on the bar’s website and appear in online searches. Their non-lawyer website professional copied and pasted content from other attorney’s websites. Besides the obvious problem of owning a website that contains plagiarized content, the website included misleading information such as:

  • The website implied there were multiple lawyers in the law practice when there was only one.
  • The website claimed that the attorneys had “over 12 years of experience,” and “fifteen years of combined experience” when there was only one attorney who had only practiced law for eight years.
  • The website referred to the attorney as an expert when the attorney was not certified in any specialization.
  • The website advertised an area of practice in which the attorney had no experience and did not accept cases.

Social Media Ethics Violations

The attorney also hired a non-lawyer to make posts on Facebook related to the attorney’s practice but did not monitor the content of the posts which included:

  • Facebook posts that revealed client’s names and details of their cases without the clients’ permission.
  • Descriptions of the attorney’s legal services as the “best” which made unsubstantiated comparisons to other attorneys’ services.
  • Advertisements for special discounted rates for legal fees that did not disclose anticipated costs.

How do you avoid marketing-related ethical violations that could result in a public reprimand or worse? Hire a company that employs writers with law degrees and that focuses solely on attorney websites. They might cost more than your local Acme Website Company, but it is a fact that the structure and content of lawyer websites require a level of expertise that many website professionals do not have.

Regardless of who designs or hosts your website or blog, take control of the content. Ideally, you should draft the content yourself. If you do not have the time or motivation to draft the content yourself, ensure that the person drafting your content understands and cares about the ethics rules. Always review and revise your content before allowing it to go live keeping in mind the ethics rules and the quality of the content that your prospective clients will be reading on your websites.

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