If you plan to place an advertisement for your law firm in your local newspaper, you know that you’ll have to include certain disclosures required by the legal advertising ethics rules. Well, guess what? The very same rules apply to your social media posts.
Now, this should not come as much of a surprise if you are paying for a sponsored ad on Facebook that is designed to target specific clients or if you are posting from your law firm’s social media profile. But many lawyers are shocked to learn that content posted on their personal social media profiles could also be considered a social media legal advertisement.
You see, the legal advertising ethics rules generally govern the message, not the medium. Therefore, the very same content that would be subject to the legal advertising ethics rules in a print ad or on television would also be considered on your Facebook page, Twitter profile, or Instagram account. Have I blown your mind yet?
What happens if my post is a social media legal advertisement?
If your post constitutes a social media legal advertisement, it must include all the disclosures required by the legal advertising ethics rules. These are generally very same disclosures required for print, television, or radio advertisements due to the audio-visual nature of the social media posts themselves. So what are these disclosures?
At minimum:  the name of at least one lawyer or the law firm responsible for the content of the advertisement; and  the city, town, or county of one or more bona fide office locations of the lawyer who will perform the services advertised. These are the absolute minimum disclosures. Some jurisdictions require significantly more disclosures for legal advertisements and some posts (such as one’s featuring a non-attorney spokesperson or a former client review) will require other disclosures by their very nature. I recommend you consult your jurisdiction’s legal advertising rules for a complete list.
As you can imagine, adding these minimum disclosures to your social media posts could present some serious challenges. For example, Twitter limits your tweets to 140-characters or less. How will you be able to create short, engaging content while at the same time including your law firm name and your primarily office location?
To make matters worse, if you do not use your real name or law firm name as part of your Twitter handle, then you must also include your law firm’s or the name of at least one lawyer responsible for the ad within the tweet. So, for example, this additional information would be required in the event you use a Twitter handle such @DivorceMaster or @LegalEagle28. Try fitting all that into 140 characters or less and still attracting potential clients. I tried my best, and here’s what that I came up with:
Not very engaging, right? So now let’s learn how to tell whether your posts would be considered a social media legal advertisement.
What social posts are considered legal advertisements?
Your posts would be considered a social media legal advertisement if they concern the availability of legal employment. A social media post concerns the availability of legal employment when it promotes legal services or includes a call-to-action to contact you for help with legal issues.
It’s important to keep in mind that not every post about the law will be considered a legal advertisement. Social media legal advertisements generally go beyond the mere commenting on current legal events or providing some general tips on legal issues. Social media legal advertisements take the extra step to encourage readers to contact you or your firm to engage you for legal services.
To help you determine how to apply this standard to your social media content, let’s review a few social media posts and I’ll explain whether they would be considered a social media legal advertisement:
Example 1: “Case finally over. Unanimous verdict! Celebrating tonight.”
This statement, standing alone, is not likely to be considered an advertisement because it does not concern the availability of legal employment. Generally speaking, posts that simply announce victories without accompanying information about your availability for professional employment is unlikely to be considered an advertisement. Here, you would not need to include the required disclosures.
Example 2: “Another great victory in court today! My client is delighted. Who wants to be next?”
The statement “Another great victory in court today!” standing alone is not likely an advertisement because it does not promote the availability of legal employment. However, the addition of “who wants to be next?” promotes your availability for legal employment. This would make the post an advertisement.
Example 3: “Won a million dollar verdict. Tell your friends to check out my website.”
This post also constitutes an advertisement because the words “tell your friends to check out my website” conveys a message concerning the availability for legal employment. In this context, you are asking the reader to tell others to look at your website for possible legal employment.
Example 4: “Won another personal injury case. Call me for a free consultation.”
This post would also be considered an advertisement because an offer of a free consultation is a step toward securing potential employment, and the offer indicates that you are available to be hired.
Example 5: “Just published an article on wage and hour breaks. Let me know if you would like a copy.”
This post is not an advertisement because it does not concern your availability for legal employment. You are merely relaying information regarding an article you published, and are offering to provide copies. Accordingly, this post does not need to include either of the required disclosures.
Now that you have a better understanding of what constitutes a social media legal advertisement, you can use this information to your advantage by either  knowing when you need to add disclosures in order to complying with the legal advertising ethical rules or  prepare more engaging content by avoiding the types of trigger terms that turn your posts into a social media legal advertisement.
Personally, I find that posting content on social media that do not sound like ads (such as Example 5) is a more effective way to engage your audience in a manner that will attract potential clients. By demonstrating that you are the authority in your area of law without having to “sell yourself” through ads, you will create a thoughtful discussion and subtly remind your friends and colleagues on social media that you are there to help them when the time comes to hire a lawyer.
No disclosures required!