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New York legal ethics rules : Law firm web sites are advertising

February 10, 2007

Seems obvious to me they are, but Ashby Jones at the Wall Street Journal asks “Are law firm websites attorney advertising?”

Ashby picked up on a post from Eric Turkewitz that despite New York’s new attorney disciplinary rules on advertising, 11 of the 15 largest law firms in the country have failed to comply.

What are the new New York rules relevant to law firm websites?

  • “Advertisement” means any public or private communication made by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm about that lawyer or law firm at firm’s services, the primary purpose of which is or the retention of the lawyer or law firm. It does not include communications to existing clients or other lawyers. (Definition s. Definitions, subdivision [k])
  • “Computer-accessed communication” means any communication made by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm that is disseminated through the use of a computer or related electronic device, including, but not limited to, web sites, weblogs, search engines, electronic mail, banner advertisements, pop- up and pop-under advertisements, chat rooms, list servers, instant messaging, or other in internet presences, and any attachments or links related thereto. (Definition s. Definitions, subdivision [l])
  • Advertisements other than those appearing in a radio or television advertisement or in a directory, newspaper, magazine or other periodical be labeled “Attorney Advertising.” (DR 2-101[F]).
  • Advertisements must be pre-approved by the lawyer or law firm and retained for three years (one year in the case of computer-accessed communications). DR 2-101[K]).
  • All advertisements shall include the name, principal law office address and telephone number of the lawyer or law firm whose services are being offered. (DR 2-102[H]).
  • Any words or statements required by this rule to appear in an advertisement must be clearly legible and capable of being read by the average per age person, if written, and intelligible if spoken aloud. (DR 2-102[I]).

If I’m a New York law firm, I’d play it safe.

  • Assume your firm website is advertising.
  • Put text in the footer of the website labeled “Attorney Advertising” with the law firm name, principal address and telephone number.
  • Backup copies of the website on a regular basis so you always have a copy of the site for a year.

That’s not too bad.

For New York law blogs, I’ll post something soon. From everything I’ve read and listened to, lawyer blogs are not advertising. Basis being that their primary purpose is not “the retention of the lawyer or law firm.”