Our recent blog post, LinkedIn is Boring But Lawyers Should Be There Anyway, offered up some best practices for lawyers looking to maximize their LinkedIn presence in the least amount of time.
In this post, we’ll discuss how to do all that while staying out of trouble with the State Bar of Texas.
Lawyers are bound by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which covers advertising, which includes social media, which includes LinkedIn. Your compliance, or non-compliance, with those rules is monitored by The State Bar of Texas’ Advertising Review Committee.
The State Bar of Texas’ Committee on Rules and Referenda is considering changes to the current rules governing lawyer advertising, which potentially could impact lawyers’ LinkedIn profiles. The committee is accepting public comments through August 6 with a final vote scheduled for late August or September.
(For purposes of this blog post, we’ll just discuss ethical rules as they pertain to ad review issues. Lawyers must also maintain client confidentiality and avoid conflicts, but we won’t be discussing those here, as they are outside our wheelhouse.)
The 2 Most Important Rules
In general, you can stay out of trouble with the Bar if you do these two things:
- Never publish anything false or misleading
- Make sure your goal is to educate your audience, not to market yourself.
This, of course, applies to anything you say in a publicly available forum, such as your website, client newsletters (if you do them), etc.
Best Practices for Having a Compliant LinkedIn Profile
Don’t overstate your role in any results. If you were lead counsel, state that. But if your role could be more accurately described as “sat second chair” or “assisted with,” then stick with that.
Don’t compare yourself or your firm with other lawyers or firms unless that comparison can be supported with objective, verifiable data. Saying you’re the “toughest family lawyer in Dallas” will definitely get you in trouble, because there’s no way to verify that.
On the other hand, if you can prove that your firm has won the most multi-million dollar verdicts in Texas in 2017, you can say that. But be ready to prove it to the State Bar.
If you want to reference a verdict or a judgment for which you were the primarily responsible lawyer, you have to also include this information:
- The amount actually received by the client. If the gross amount is stated, you have to also include attorney’s fees and litigation expenses withheld
- “Adequate information” about the nature of the case and the damages
Stick to the facts in your Profile summary. Practice areas, how long you’ve been practicing, relevant career highlights, summary of results – all of these are fine as long as you use compliant language. You can still do an excellent job of marketing yourself without crossing the line.
Take care when listing practice areas: Rule 7.02(a)(6) says a communication is false or misleading if it designates one or more specific areas of practice in an advertisement in the public media or in a solicitation communication unless the advertising or soliciting lawyer is competent to handle legal matters in each such area of practice.
Review your Endorsements: LinkedIn allows users to endorse their connections for particular skills. If you have endorsements on your profile that you believe leave a false or misleading impression (e.g. you were endorsed for your litigation skills by someone who has never seen you in action and has no reasonable basis to endorse you), you should hide those endorsements. (See image at right)
Review your Recommendations with an eye toward compliant language: If those recommending you use language prohibited by the State Bar, you can get dinged. So, “Alison is the best lawyer in town” (which includes comparison language that’s unverifiable) is a definite no-no.
If someone recommends you using non-compliant language, you can ask them to rewrite the endorsement using compliant language or you can offer to rewrite it for them. You know your clients better than I do, so I defer to you which approach works best. I’m betting most will prefer the second option.
Your Articles should not be sales pieces: If you publish articles on LinkedIn, their goal should be to educate and inform. They should not be an excuse to talk about what a great lawyer you are or how many verdicts you’ve won. If your article is “How to find the right widget lawyer” and it does little more than describe your exact bona fides, that could definitely get you in trouble.
Do you have to file your LinkedIn profile with the State Bar of Texas?
If your profile is public – which it should be – and it includes information beyond what’s spelled out in rule 7.07(e), it is required to be submitted for approval.
According to the Bar’s interpretive comments, “Landing pages such as those on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. where the landing page is generally available to the public are advertisements.”
Advertisements that contain the following information DO NOT require Bar submission:
- Lawyer’s/law firm’s name, address, etc.
- Practice area
- Bar and court admissions
- Technical and professional licenses
- Foreign language ability
- Special certifications (such as Texas Board of Legal Specialization)
- Information regarding “prepaid or group legal service plans in which the lawyer participates”
- Whether you accept credit cards, fee for initial consultation and fee schedule
- Other publicly available information concerning legal issues, not prepared or paid for by the firm or any of its lawyers, such as news articles, legal articles, editorial opinions, or other legal developments or events, such as proposed or enacted rules, regulations, or legislation
- Information about charitable or civic involvement
- Required disclosures
- Any other information required by the Supreme Court of Texas
There’s nothing on that list about results, relevant legal work, endorsements, recommendations, etc.
So, in effect, if you provide any information on your LinkedIn profile that could serve a marketing purpose, the State Bar requires you to submit your profile for approval.
Having an effective LinkedIn profile is good for business. But it’s equally important to make sure it doesn’t get you in trouble with the State Bar.
Amy Boardman Hunt is the president of Muse Communications LLC, which provides content marketing and public relations to the legal profession. She began her career in legal journalism and has worked in legal marketing and public relations since 1997. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.