Websites have become a primary way by which lawyers communicate with the public, including potential clients. Law firms must be mindful that their websites are subject to lawyer advertising rules. Accordingly, law firms must not include misleading information on websites, must be aware of client expectations created by statements on websites, and must diligently manage client inquiries invited through their websites1.
Information about the Law Firm, or its Clients. Law firm websites may provide biographical information about lawyers, including educational background, areas of practice, jurisdictional limitations, and contact information2. A website also may contain information about the law firm’s history, and experience, including general descriptions about prior engagements. With client consent, more specific information about a law firm’s former or current clients might also be included3.
Information about the Law and Availability of Legal Services. Traditionally, lawyers have provided the public with information by publishing articles, giving talks, and the like. Law firm websites also can assist the public in understanding the law and in identifying when and how to obtain legal services. Such information might include brochures, newsletters or blogs. To avoid misleading readers, lawyers should make sure the content is correct and current, and should include qualifying statements or appropriate disclaimers4.
Website Visitor Inquiries. Inquiries from a website visitor about legal advice or representation may raise an issue concerning duties to prospective clients5. Rule 1.18 protects the confidentiality of prospective client communications, should they occur. The Rule also recognizes ways that a law firm may limit subsequent disqualification based on the prospective client disclosures when the firm decides not to undertake a matter6.
Disclaiming Law Firm’s Obligations to Website Visitors. Cautionary statements on a law firm website may effectively limit, condition, or disclaim a lawyer’s obligation to a website reader, such as (1) whether a client-lawyer relationship has been created; (2) whether the visitor’s information will be kept confidential; (3) whether legal advice has been given; or (4) whether the lawyer will be prevented from representing an adverse party7. Such disclaimers will be effective only if they are conspicuously placed and are understandable.