Zoologists call it “agonistic” behavior — when animals try to look bigger than they are in order to compete. While exaggerated displays are perfectly normal for frill-necked lizards and gray catbirds, does misleading content about a law firm’s size on its website constitute an ethics violation for false advertising?
I recently came across the website of the Law Office of Janet McCullar, P.C., an Austin divorce and family law firm. Although only one lawyer is mentioned by name, the site’s copy and images try to tell a different story.
The dissonance starts on the homepage. The first image in the carousel at the top of the page features a group shot of five unidentified women. Beneath the image area is a static copy block with the heading “Austin Divorce Attorneys.” The body copy reads, in part:
“When you meet with one of our attorneys, we will review your situation and make recommendations about strategies we believe will serve you best and will guide your expectations about results. We will assess your case and let you know whether you need immediate action or a plan for the future. We will give you guidance on how to best manage your situation, and we will let you know whether we think the time is right to take action, or wait. We will break down a complex process and let you know whether you have any red flags that need immediate attention.
Janet McCullar is a Board Certified Family Law attorney who is respected nationwide for her skill and experience in representing clients in complex divorce and custody matters for over 20 years.”
Likewise, the “Attorneys” — plural — tab in the homepage navigation bar links to a single attorney bio, McCullar’s.
Is it all right to refer to “one of our attorneys” when there is only one?
I get it. The other women pictured on the site could be administrative staff and/or paraprofessionals. The clearer — and arguably the more ethical — approach would have been to write the copy in the first person, making it clear that “we” refers to McCullar and her team. As it is, the juxtaposition of group photos and copy written in the first person plural might mislead.
Don’t risk it
Even if it passes your state bar’s advertising review, remember that even a whiff of exaggeration can alienate prospective clients and sully your reputation with peers. Tell it like it is. Whether there used to be more attorneys or you expect to be adding more soon, your website copy should accurately reflect your firm’s current composition. And if you’re going to promote your firm using your colleagues’/employees’ images, show them — and prospective clients — the courtesy of identifying them by name and role.