Business Development

27
Dec
2016

Business Development:

How to comply with Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct when marketing your law practice

Gretchen Koehler Mote, Esq., and Paul J. Unger, Esq.
Columbus, OH

​Marketing must be an integral part of your practice. It gives you the ability to develop and control your practice and should be viewed as a positive element of any successful business operation.

Your law business will come from three primary sources: current clients, satisfied past clients and strangers. Of course, current clients and past satisfied clients know you and are pleased with your work. Hopefully they will use your services again or recommend you to others in the future, and for that reason it is important that you continue to market your services to them.

Strangers obviously don't know you, and most likely won't even think about an attorney until they are faced with a legal problem. Once the need arises, however, you want to be the person they turn to, and the way to help them think of you first is through marketing. Effective law office marketing requires both compliance with the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and application of sound marketing principles.

Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct
Rules 7.1 through 7.5 address marketing and advertising.

Rule 7.1 Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services
Governs all communications about a lawyer's services, including advertising permitted by Rule 7.2. Whatever means are used to make known a lawyer's services, the statements must be truthful and not false or misleading. Truthful statements that are misleading are prohibited by the rule.

There is no longer a prohibition on client testimonials or self-laudatory claims, as long as they are not unverifiable. However, an advertisement that truthfully reports a lawyer's achievements on behalf of clients or former clients may be misleading if it could lead a reasonable person to form an unjustified expectation that the same results could be obtained for other clients in similar matters without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances of each client's case.

Characterization of rates or fees chargeable by the lawyer or law firm such as "cut-rate," "lowest," "giveaway," "below cost," "discount," or "special" is likewise misleading.

Rule 7.2 Advertising and Recommendation of Professional Employment
Provides, subject to requirements of Rules 7.1 and 7.3, a lawyer may advertise services through written, recorded or electronic communication, including public media.

A lawyer can pay for advertising and communications permitted by this rule, including the costs of:

● Print directory listings;

Online directory listings;

Newspaper ads;

Television and radio ads;

Domain-name registrations;

Sponsorship fees;

Banner ads; and

Group advertising.

A lawyer may compensate employees, agents and vendors who are engaged to provide marketing or client-development services, such as publicists, public-relations personnel, business-development staff and Website designers. A lawyer employing such help shall take reasonable efforts to ensure that the conduct of non-lawyer employees is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer.

Rule 7.3 Direct Contact with Prospective Clients
Prohibits the solicitation of a prospective client through a real-time electronic exchange that is not initiated by the prospective client. The Rule broadens the types of communications permitted by authorizing the use of recorded telephone and electronic communication via the Internet. However, the provisions on disclosures now apply to all forms of permissible direct solicitations.

"Understanding Your Rights" as set out in the Rule must be sent if a communication soliciting professional employment from a prospective client or relative of a prospective client is sent within 30 days of an accident or disaster that gives rise to a potential claim for personal injury or wrongful death.

None of the requirements of Rule 7.3 apply to communications sent in response to requests from clients or prospective clients. Also, general announcements by lawyers including changes in personnel or office location do not constitute communications within the parameters of this rule.

A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment from a prospective client when that client has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer. Also, a lawyer solicitation shall not involve coercion, duress or harassment.

Rule 7.4 Communication of Fields of Practice and Specialization
Provides that a lawyer may communicate the fact that he/she does or does not practice in a particular field of law. Allowing a lawyer to state she/he is a "specialist," practices a "specialty," or "specializes in" particular fields is a change from DR 2-105.

Rule 7.5 Firm Names and Letterheads
Allows truthful statements about a lawyer's professional status, other business pursuits or degrees. This represents a change from the prohibitions in DR 2-102(E).

General ideas and concepts
Within the confines of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and law practice ethical guidelines, standard marketing concepts and issues are applicable. You should:

Conduct an honest and candid self-assessment of your current practice and where you want to be in the future.

Determine your target market and prospective client profile.

Determine what tools, staff and skill set you need to employ (language skills, technology, specialized legal practice) and how you get them.

Use your imagination for developing prospects.

Be aware that you are marketing for prospective clients 24/7, for law work that may not even have happened yet.

Determine what result you want and develop your marketing plan working back from the result by applying "How do we get there?" process.