Advertisement of legal services in the decade of Facebook?

March 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm Leave a comment

“Is a Facebook or LinkedIn page an advertisement in the publicmedia subject to the State Bar’s advertising and communicationrules?” This is a central question of a paper entitled: “The State Bar of Texas Provides New Guidance to Attorneys Regarding the Proper Use of Social Media and Blogs for Advertising Purposes“. Nowadays internet and namely social media offers seamless and practically costless opportunities for advertisement. At the times when most of the rules and codes for attorneys ads were drafted, radio and TV were the most advanced technologies.

The paper explores the rules of the State Bar of Texas. Interpretative comment N: 17 reads as follows:

“…information disseminated digitally via the Internet”is subject to the rules of professional conduct that govern information about legal services, including lawyer advertising.  Specifically, a “digitally transmitted message” is an advertisement in the public media, subject to the rules governing lawyer advertising when the message 1) “addresses the availability of a Texas lawyer’s services; and 2) is “published to the Internet.”

This rule was adopted in 2003 when social media and the blogosphere were much less developed than in 2011. Accordingly the interpretative comment has been clarified to include social media:

“Landing pages such as those on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. where the landing page is generally available to the public are advertisements. Where accessis limited to existing clients and personal friends, filing with the Advertising Review Department is not required.”

Sensitive issue is whether status updates as well as blogs can qualify as advertisement? The paper points to another section of the rules which say that status updates and blogs “considered to be educational or informational in nature” are not considered advertisement and do not have to be filled for approval by the Bar’s Advertising Review Department. However, there is a thin line between advertisement and instructional information and the paper warns:

“Keep your Facebook page set to private if you are going to discuss your practice to any extent beyond basic,“tombstone,” information. The same is true for lawyersutilizing any other social media site. To do otherwise, you risk subjecting yourself to onerous submission requirements and possible ethical sanctions.”

 

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Entry filed under: Legal Advice.

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