I started marketing law firms in 2010 when my husband, Nick, graduated from the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law and transitioned overnight from professional student to greenhorn attorney. Together we reviewed the rules that regulate how you can promote law firms and I began to understand why lawyers handle marketing the way they do.
(Stringent) Marketing Guidelines for Attorneys
Attorneys have to adhere to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, and specifically Chapter 7 (Information About Legal Services) which includes rules like, “A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment by written, recorded or electronic communication or by in-person, telephone or real-time electronic contact even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (a).”
Simply put, a lawyer can’t contact someone with a legal need unless they already know that person.
Social Media Restrictions Span Many Industries
Lawyers aren’t the only ones who have to be careful using social media.
- Securities companies are subject to a periodic spot-check procedure from FINRA (Financial Industry Regulation Authority) which requires a detailed report including items like who posted to their social media accounts and the dollar amount of commissions earned during that timeframe.
- Prescription drug and medical device manufacturers who are largely waiting for the FDA to issue formal guidance for advertising on social media. Currently they still have to include risk information which doesn’t fit very well in 140 characters.
- Government agencies are prohibited by federal law from engaging in lobbying and propaganda. The E.P.A. was the most recent violator for engaging in “covert propaganda” on their Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Thunderclap accounts.
For the Rest of Us: Legal Implications on Social Media
Even for those of us working with more lax industries, we need to be aware of legal implications, such as:
- Anytime you’re working with endorsements and sweepstakes
- When engaging in online behavioral advertising (The Digital Advertising Alliance has adopted Self-Regulatory Principles which you should adhere to)
- Being open and transparent when it comes to third-party sharing and other privacy concerns
- Sharing photographs found online which very likely have copyright restrictions
Even if your social media is just for personal use, you need to be careful about what you’re sharing. Employees have been terminated for what they’ve posted about their employers (although the National Labor Relations Board recently found several employees were wrongfully terminated for this reason).
Good Things Take Time
Five years later, Nick is <somewhat> active on social media and I work with attorneys every day. I understand when they are weary of the danger lurking around the digital corner, but good things take time and a little effort.
Smart social media usage can make you look more human, help you connect with your audience, and ultimately grow your business. Take the time to get educated about your industry and post with confidence. It will be worth the effort!
About the Author
Christina ‘Stina’ Hergott (@stinahergott) is the Co-Owner and Director of Strategy for b.Legal Marketing, a web development firm focused on helping solo and small law firms look good online. She also runs Pink Moon Marketing, a brand positioning and strategy development consultancy that helps businesses define their brands and look at the big picture behind their marketing.