Lawyer advertising rules and 9 effective marketing strategies

That was then, this is now — A guide to legal advertising history, and how traditional advertising can integrate with digital marketing tools for attorney advertising best practices.

Marketing and advertising are changing faster than a lawyer can say “objection!” It’s no longer enough to just stay current – lawyers need to stay ahead of the game.

In this guide, we’ll explore the pertinent history of advertising for lawyers, and list out essential rules you’ll want to follow in your jurisdiction. The rest of the guide offers insights into effective advertising strategies.

 

Jump to:

Historical context


Rules and disclaimers by state


Best form of advertising?


Website design


Pay-per-click


Content marketing


Search engine optimization (SEO)


Legal directory advertising


Online review management


Social media advertising


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Historical context of advertising for lawyers

If you’re considering advertising your legal services, some historical precedents related to advertising have led to current rules of professional conduct for lawyers in every state.

 

Bates v. State Bar of Arizona in 1977

What can be called the modern era of attorney advertising began on June 27, 1977. That was the day the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, essentially striking down prohibitions against advertising by attorneys. So advertising for attorneys is really just over 40 years old.

 

Drastic changes since the internet

Another pivotal date for advertising for lawyers came 12 years after the Bates decision. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.

To get a sense of just how much lawyer advertising has changed since the Bates decision, let’s review what, up until recently, were fairly common methods, and then move on to where the world of advertising is now as an indication of where it is heading. From buses to bus benches, advertising for attorneys has for years included out-of-home advertising, and likely will for some time to come.

Bus bench with advertisement — Are you still advertising here? There are better ways!

Another once-popular medium was the yellow pages. That would often be the very first place someone looking for an attorney, or any other professional service for that matter, would check. Today, well, it’s unlikely you even have a yellow pages, other than on your phone or computer.

Print advertising, whether in a magazine, a local newspaper, or some other publication, is still prevalent. Print can still be useful but can is no longer enough by itself.

Local television spots were once very popular and effective for reach. Commercials can still be effective depending on your audience and goal. Moreover, popular streaming services like Youtube along with video ads can also effectively extend your reach.

 

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Online advertising overtakes traditional mediums

In 2016, the online advertising market was larger than that for TV, and the gap has only accelerated and shifted now to streaming video. Magazine ad revenues turned flat. Newspaper advertising declined. Out-of-home advertising is still strong, but largely because of digitally-driven out-of-home options, such as digital billboards.

 

Advertising today

Advertising encompasses a range of activities to promote your services like the ones listed so far. Digital marketing accounts for the greatest breadth of advertising activities.

More importantly, digital marketing has become the number one way to effectively reach potential customers in most industries. Businesses, companies, and law firms alike invest in a variety of different strategies, such as search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC), content marketing, social media, and more.

 

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Lawyer advertising rules and disclaimers by state

ABA Rule 7.1: Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services lays out general guidance:

“A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.”

At its essence, successfully navigating the rules requires three things: Be honest; be careful; and understand the rules of the states in which you are licensed. Adhering to those three principles should form the basis of creating ads that are compliant.

The American Bar Association provides more specific guidance through its Rule 7.2 on advertising, derived from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct are not binding until a state decides to incorporate them.

 

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Disclaimers by state

Below are specific rules of communication by state. Please note that some states omit Rule 7.2.

 

 

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The best form of advertising for lawyers

Advertising through digital channels is usually the most effective strategy for where and how to compete in the legal market. Digital marketing allows precise message and audience targeting at the right time, improving response rates and the return on your advertising. No single method is necessarily the right one, and each one has its own advantages. Just as a print ad in a magazine has strengths and weaknesses as an advertising tactic, so do digital methods.

Infographic about how people find lawyers — Key legal market trends for small and solo law firms
1. Legal consumers are highly motivated. 53% of consumers took swift action to resolve their legal issues by contacting a lawyer, with 40% citing they did so to avoid future legal difficulties. How is your firm using digital marketing to proactively address potential clients’ questions and concerns? 2. Legal consumers turn online to vet attorneys. 78% of consumers visited two to five different websites before contacting an attorney — proving it’s more important than ever that small law firms have a robust digital presence. Do your website, social channels, and directory listings tell a cohesive and convincing story? 3. Legal consumers want attorneys to share their urgency. 72% of legal consumers reach out via phone calls when contacting an attorney and 50% expect a response the same day they reach out. Does your firm have an efficient and effective client intake process? 4. Legal consumers value know-how. 45% of legal consumers cited expertise as being a key factor when choosing an attorney. How are you conveying that you are the trusted legal expert potential clients need?

 

Digital marketing is attractive because many tactics can be accurately and instantly measured. You know if your ad works, and how to change it to make it more effective when it under-performs.

Digital media gives you the opportunity to actively engage with prospects and clients. You can establish your credibility and expertise while becoming a valued resource to them and to your community. Whether you use digital channels or not, your competitors like are, and they are reaching an entire generation that you won’t be.

The key to their effective, and cost-effective use is developing an understanding of what those strengths and weaknesses are. Keep in mind that this is meant to introduce you to these topics, not to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of them.

However, some sections below direct you to more in-depth guides to its particular subset of digital advertising. Let’s take a look at how you can compete using the following nine strategies.

 

Design an engaging and measurable website

While law firms rightly still use traditional advertising tactics by using billboards, TV, radio, and print, a website is the most important asset. A website is your primary online presence and opportunity to differentiate your story.

Your law firm’s website is often the first impression potential clients have of your practice. It should be visually appealing, user-friendly, and optimized for mobile devices.

website design example rendered on monitor

A well-designed website should also showcase your expertise, provide valuable resources, and make it easy for visitors to contact you. Consider hiring a professional web designer who specializes in law firm websites to ensure your site stands out from the competition.

Unlike traditional billboards, law firms can measure a website’s performance by using a performance dashboard such as FindLaw INSIGHT to look at key metrics like the sources of traffic, number of page visits, and contacts made through the website.

 

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Use PPC campaigns to maintain a consistent lead pipeline

Pay-per-click, or PPC marketing, is paying for prospects to visit your site. PPC is conceptually pretty straightforward. Executing PPC effectively can be complicated, and requires an ongoing commitment of time on your part. There’s a range of PPC tools and platforms that includes social media advertising, but that’s beyond the scope of this guide.

 

How it works

With PPC, you bid on keywords that people seeking services like yours might use in a search. The results of the bid may allow you to show an ad you create and can appear for relevant searches. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad.

The distinct benefit of PPC advertising is its ability to quickly introduce your firm to highly qualified consumers who are actively searching for legal representation in your target market.

Ad relevancy and ad strength play a crucial role in PPC ad quality. Creating compelling ads that highlight expertise, unique selling points, and strong calls to action enhances visibility and exposure in the search results. Advertisers should strive to optimize their ads on a regular basis to keep up with evolving trends. This, in turn, positively impacts ad performance.


 

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Display and video PPC formats

You’ve seen thousands of them — the banner ads at the top of a web page, the skyscraper ads along the right side of a page, and many other forms on online display advertisements. These have become as ubiquitous as billboards or TV commercials.

Display advertising in general though, continues to be an important and highly recognizable method, and video for steaming platforms will be for some time to come.

Some the pros and cons of display and video:

 

Pros:

  • Highly Targeted: display and video ads can be targeted to specific user groups, allowing for more relevant, effective campaigns.
  • Measurable: it is easier to measure the success of display and video campaigns, making it easier to track ROI.
  • Flexible: display and video ads can be tailored to various sizes, formats and styles, allowing you to create an ad that’s perfectly suited to your needs.
  • Affordable: display and video ads are generally more affordable than traditional forms of advertising, making them ideal for smaller businesses.

 

Cons:

  • Competition: due to the popularity of display and video ads, there is a lot of competition, making it harder to stand out and capture attention.
  • Ad Blockers: many users have installed ad blockers, making it harder to reach your target audience.
  • Banner Blindness: due to the proliferation of display and video ads, users have become “banner blind”, meaning they’re more likely to ignore them.
  • Ad Fraud: ad fraud is a serious issue in digital advertising, and display and video ads are particularly vulnerable to it.

 

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Provide helpful, relevant, and engaging content

Whether it’s an official blog on your law firm’s website, or articles written in the news section, legal consumers do their research online when in need of legal advice.

The goal of content marketing is to create content that will attract, inform, and engage potential clients. Every article should have a call to action, such as signing up for a free consultation or downloading a free guide. Keep in mind that content marketing is an investment, not a cost. It may not lead to immediate results, but is a go-to long-term strategy for client pipeline growth.

Use your expertise and experience to provide both general and specific legal information. Round up your team of attorneys to devote some time each month to write something practical, accurate, and meaningful on any relevant legal matter.

bankruptcy content example

Many lawyers enjoy writing and articulating diverse legal topics, so tapping into internal resources can help elevate your content strategy.

Optimize your website content for long-term organic traffic

Search engine optimization (SEO) is closely related to content marketing because quality content that’s helpful for visitors can significantly improve a website’s rankings in search engines.

SEO is the process of improving your website’s visibility in search engine results. By optimizing your website with relevant keywords, creating high-quality content, and other SEO activities, you can increase your organic search rankings and attract more potential clients.

Use your blog content as a strategic platform. Think about how you would organize legalese into clear clusters, or groups of keywords. Be sure to use laymen’s terms for folks without much legal knowledge. It’s like building a topical hierarchy according to practice area and jurisdiction that might help potential clients find your website.


 

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No longer just a legal version of the yellow pages, online legal directories have become a go-to resource for consumers looking for legal assistance and expertise.

The power of a legal directory listing is that you know the consumer is looking specifically for the legal services you provide. The challenge is knowing how to tailor your strategy to motivate them to select your firm. Legal directory advertising can fill the gaps in traditional PPC and SEO efforts since directory sites already rank high in search results.

Make sure that your listing is accurate, and that you will be responsive to any contacts you might get as a result of your listing. In creating your listing, consider the questions your prospects will be asking themselves:

  • Why should I hire you?
  • How can you help me?
  • Can you address the particular problem I have?

Approach your listing from the perspective of someone seeking your services and have problems to be solved.

Keep in mind that different legal directories serve different purposes. If your clientele is Spanish-speaking, then use a Spanish legal directory. No matter the audience, your listing should be specific and straightforward about your areas of practice and expertise.

Solicit and manage online reviews

Online reviews play a significant role in shaping a law firm’s reputation. Positive reviews can build trust and credibility, while negative reviews can harm your firm’s image.

However, Not every case is going to be a slam dunk and not every client is going to love the experience of working with you. That’s okay, because it’s part of the process. We all know this. There is value to be found in negative reviews, even if it won’t be the best you could ask for.

Know what you can and cannot control. Actively managing your online reviews by monitoring and responding to critical feedback can help you maintain a positive online reputation. Encourage satisfied clients to leave reviews and address any negative feedback promptly and professionally.

Most importantly, it’s a good idea to create systems to handle reviews before any problems arise. Proactively engage with clients early on by giving them opportunities to provide feedback. Those results are out of your control, but at least you can provide excellent service throughout the legal journey.

 

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Drive awareness with social media advertising

It’s easy to overlook social media channels when it comes to advertising. After all, isn’t social media for expressing opinions, getting news, and sharing family pictures?

Don’t dismiss their power and their effectiveness. But when considering social apps, it’s important to keep in mind that they are primarily a means to build awareness, and not necessarily to create, at least near term, conversions.

Social media is a highly-targeted, useful and effective tool for expressing your brand and showing legal consumers who you are and what it’s like to work with you. Using social media as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy is an effective way to spread awareness of your practice and the services you provide.

Find the right clients as a solo attorney

Solo attorneys don’t have to be at a disadvantage. Solo attorneys face unique challenges when it comes to marketing their practices, but there are advantages to working solo.

Many lawyers start out wanting to focus on one area like business or intellectual property, but often they change focus because the client needs change. As a young lawyer in a solo practice, you might be convinced to take on any client who is willing to pay you to handle their legal matter.

However, the first question to ask as a solo attorney is “How can I get more of the right clients?,” says Mike Brown, Senior Client Development Consultant. This flexibility to choose and make your own decisions can truly set you up for success. “clients hire individuals, not law firms,” adds Mike Brown. At a later point, you have the freedom to raise your fee and reduce the number of cases you take on instead of adding staff.

Besides the intricacies of running your own solo practice, the same advertising and marketing strategies in this guide apply. Leverage digital marketing strategies such as content creation and social media engagement to reach your target audience effectively and generate referrals.


 

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Get involved in your community

Community involvement is not only a way to give back but also an effective marketing strategy.

By participating in local events, sponsoring community organizations, and volunteering your legal expertise, you can raise awareness of your firm and build trust within your community. Consider hosting educational seminars or workshops to establish yourself as a thought leader and resource for legal information.

Create a tradition for you and your firm to celebrate Love Your Lawyer Day on the first Friday of every November. Generate buzz and a campaign on social media to show your authentic care and investment for your community.

 

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Lastly, mix traditional and digital methods

In the rapidly changing landscape, it’s crucial to adapt to proven best practices for attorney advertising. What used to be effective in the past, may or may not work today in your state and for your firm’s goals.

Finding the right mix of traditional advertising with the latest digital marketing strategies will naturally take time and some testing.

 

Identify effective advertising mediums

Start by deciding which mediums will either best reach your audience or create the most engagement and potential leads. Your campaign will entail some of both of those two goals.

Match your practice’s advertising goals with the most viable medium option. Think about the impact your message and tone will have on your brand perception.

For example, billboards still catch the attention of drivers on highways. At the time this post was published, driving down a several-mile stretch of I-45 through Houston features local car accident and personal injury lawyers competing head-to-head via billboards. They were humorous and memorable. Were they worth the money? The answer is often subjective, with a vague idea of how effective it was.

 

Pair billboards with PPC and SEO

There are ways to better measure traditional advertising methods. Think outside the box to best mix traditional and digital mediums. An idea might entail creating synergy between billboards and online searches.

What if you could track the responses to your billboard ad and optimize it using the data obtained? It can be as simple as displaying a billboard on the highway with a simple phrase, Google “best personal injury lawyer in LA.”

You can then use PPC and SEO to increase the visibility of your billboard’s call-to-action and strive to get PPC ads displayed near the top for many impressions. Your blog can feature why your firm was rated as the top local personal injury practice in town.

However, this example is oversimplified. Though we wouldn’t recommend this exact idea, the idea is to improve measurement. You would set a benchmark before the billboard launches and then track Google search impressions of that phrase. A spike in data based on exact dates can confirm general effectiveness.

There are other successful examples and case studies that may inspire more concrete ideas to blend traditional and digital marketing strategies.

 

Distinguish fads from effective trends

Finally, keep an eye on emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence, that may impact the legal industry’s advertising methods. Although many trends come and go, some will stay because they’re effective. Today’s digital marketing methods are already traditional in the sense that they’ve turned into standard best practices while others are experimental.

To top it all off, stay informed on changes in consumer behavior and preferences, as well as any new regulations or guidelines related to attorney and lawyer advertising.

 

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