I’m Not a Lawyer, But I Play One on the Web

There’s a lot of discussion and debate in legal marketing circles about how well state bar disciplinary rules address Web-based advertising and social media. Admittedly, new media and their accompanying usage models require new lawyer advertising rules and the evolution of existing ones. But what about relatively straightforward and seemingly settled standards like the prohibition on actors portraying attorneys? Do current rules apply to online informational videos? Is such content considered commentary or advertising? Should it be disclosed if the speaker is not an attorney?

Today I came across the website for a company called LawInfo, which offers law firms area code-based sponsorship opportunities for Web-based video content on legal topics.

One Los Angeles-based LawInfo client uses some of these third-party videos to describe the firm’s practice areas, and offers others as “informational videos.” Do the lawyer-looking narrators work for the firm? Are they even attorneys? If they’re not, should that be disclosed? Does that matter in California?

Given that advertising rules are changing, and vary state by state, it seems like this type of content marketing needs to be approached carefully and advisedly.

So, gentle readers, I need your help. Has anyone checked whether, in what state(s), and under what conditions generic third-party video on legal topics has been cleared by your state bar for use on law firm websites?

[On an unrelated topic, what’s up with the typo in the caption?]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjiW8ROjY94&w=560&h=349]

Comments

  1. Hi Jay-

    Legal ethics online is a topic in flux and usually an interesting discussion.

    So, whether it’s web videos, TV ads, images, or other communication about a lawyer services:

    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.

    So what does that mean? Basically if a video, picture, TV ad, etc would lead a reasonable person to being misled, then it’s like impermissible. The question, as always, is what’s reasonable and how the video is being used.

    For example, is it reasonable for people to conclude that William Shatner works at a local Michigan law firm (he advertises for one on TV)? Probably not.

    If attorneys want to use images, web videos, etc to communicate their services, they are best served to include disclaimers when they use paid actors or spokespeople.

    Is it per se unethical to hire an actor? I don’t think so, but if that actor tries to persuade people that he’s a lawyer at the firm, we start to cross that blurry line…

    • Jay Pinkert says:

      Thanks Gyi!

      I’m baffled why they just don’t disclaim anyway to be on the safe side. Who wants to field a call asking for “the pretty lawyer from your website video.’

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