There’s nothing wrong with boasting about your firm’s experience in certain areas of law, the number of lawyers in your firm, or the combined experience of those lawyers. It is not, however, ok to boast about those things if they simply aren’t true.
The Law Society of Ontario recently held a tribunal hearing where a lawyer (the “Ontario lawyer”) was reprimanded for a number of issues relating to his marketing efforts.
A series of marketing no-no’s
The lawyer was called to the bar in 2013 and had practised as a sole practitioner in his Mississauga office since 2014. In 2015 the lawyer partnered with the managing partner of a Florida law firm (the “Florida lawyer”), registering a business name and executing a Professional Partnership Agreement that saw the Ontario lawyer named as the new firm’s Managing Partner with the Florida Lawyer named as its Controlling Partner. Only the Ontario lawyer practised law through the firm.
The Florida lawyer had a relationship with another business, which ran a few websites, including a lawyer referral website in the United States, and a Canadian website which presents itself as an automobile accident and injury helpline. The website ran television commercials in addition to its online presence. The advertisements stated that over 200,000 people have dialed the website’s number and that callers received medical and legal help. People who called the Canadian website and were identified as being from Ontario had their information sent to the Ontario law firm. The Florida lawyer testified that the anticipated arrangement between the website and the firm was that the website would be paid for referrals made to the law firm.
The Ontario lawyer also had his own website, which claimed to have offices in both Toronto and Mississauga. However, no Toronto office existed. The website indicated that a number of lawyers worked at it, including posting five photos of “lawyers” who were ultimately determined to have been actors. The website also boasted of the firm’s lawyers having “100 years of combined experience representing thousands of people.” However, the Ontario lawyer, who was the firm’s only lawyer, and had just four years of experience. Finally, the website marketed itself as being “aggressive” and claimed its lawyers “specialize in representing injured people,” though the Ontario lawyer had not received a specialization certificate from the province’s law society.
The Ontario lawyer admitted to the facts of the case, and in doing so, was found to be in violation of a number of a number of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which contains rules about marketing legal services. The first rule to be broken was around referral fees, which states a lawyer shall not pay to anyone for the referral of people who are not lawyers or paralegals. The firm’s agreement to pay referral fees to the website was in violation of this Rule.
Television advertising is also covered by the Rules, with Rule 4.2-1 stating ““A lawyer may market legal services only if the marketing (a) is demonstrably true, accurate and verifiable; (b) is neither misleading, confusing, or deceptive, nor likely to mislead, confuse or deceive; and (c) is in the best interests of the public and is consistent with a high standard of professionalism.”
The advertisements were found to be misleading and confusing by advertising services it could not offer and experience it did not have.
The Ontario lawyer’s website also broke Rules 4.2-1, 4.2-1.2, and 4.3-1 by advertising for specializations the Ontario lawyer did not have, jurisdictions it did not operate in, and lawyers who did not work for it. The tribunal took note of the seriousness of this breach, writing, “This is a particularly egregious breach because clients seek lawyers, and lawyers market to clients, based on skill and expertise. Pretending to be a law firm that one is not is a serious matter.” Lawyers are also not allowed to market themselves as being aggressive.
How to avoid these mistakes
Of course, building a personal brand and marketing your law firm is incredibly important. The key is in doing it right. If your law firm does specialize in particular areas of the law, does have a number of experienced lawyers working for it, and has offices in various cities, then by all means, those should be a part of your marketing plan. But even if they’re not, there are still plenty of ways to market yourself.
The key is in focusing on what you are able to offer, and what sets you apart from your competition. Are you a strong advocate, willing to always work towards the maximum compensation for a client? Or perhaps you build close, personal relationships with your clients. It could be that you are affordable, or have payment options that might help those without a lot of money.
These are all marketable traits, and are some of the many things Umbrella Legal Marketing does to help our clients. We work with lawyers at all stages of their career development in marketing the work they do, and the people they are. In addition to helping our clients market themselves, we also help them articulate, define and uncover their value propositions so they can better communicate what sets them apart from the competition. At Umbrella Legal Marketing we work exclusively for lawyers. All of our writers are lawyers, and our co-founder is a lawyer as well. As such, we are intimately familiar with the Law Society of Ontario’s Rules of Professional Conduct. If you would like to learn more about how we can assist you with your digital marketing, please call us at 416-356-4672 or find us online.