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Ethics in advertising for legal clients: What to keep in mind

No matter what business you are in, advertising is important -- and the law is no exception. Even big firms advertise. If you're practicing on your own, however, advertising for clients is probably essential to your survival. There's a lot of competition for business out there among attorneys.

No matter what you do, however, your advertising has to comply with the California Rule of Professional Conduct 1-400 if you want to stay clear of ethical violations (and out of trouble with the California State Bar).

There are some important basics to keep in mind. In particular, remember that attorneys are prohibited from:

  • Sending any form of advertisement to potential clients that isn't clearly labeled as such, including the envelope
  • Attempting to engage potential clients while they are at the hospital following an accident, on the way to the hospital or still at the scene of an accident
  • Soliciting a client who is in a physical, mental or emotional state that could impair their judgment when it comes to hiring legal representation
  • Guaranteeing any type of results through your representation
  • Claiming to be a "certified specialist" in any area of the law without actually having a certificate as a specialist by an accredited entity as designated by the state bar
  • Communicating with potential clients in a way that's coercive, intimidating, threatening or harassing

These rules apply whether you are contacting potential clients via letter, email, social media or in person. You may be wise to anticipate extra scrutiny on your advertisements. Following the devastating fires that affected part of California, the state bar released a warning to consumers -- which also serves as a reminder to attorneys.

If you are accused of an ethical violation due to your advertising practices, don't try to handle the situation with the state bar on your own. An attorney with experience in administrative law can help you navigate the complex issues that can arise.

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