A law firm website is one prominent way that lawyers reach their target audience without the expense of television and radio ads. Yet, like other forms of attorney advertising, there are rules. A disclaimer is one of the ways that you protect yourself from an ethics complaint. You probably put a lot of time into developing your law firm website disclaimer, but is it really protecting you?
There’s No Clear Answer That a Disclaimer Protects You from an Ethical Complaint
Despite the good intention to protect yourself, there’s no clear answer on whether a disclaimer actually protects you from an ethical complaint. That doesn’t mean that you should take it off your website or blog, though. Zavieh Law believes you should leave your disclaimer on your website and blog just in case they are proven as an effective measure of protection.
Potential Problems of Law Firm Website Disclaimers
Since the purpose of a law firm website disclaimer is to protect you from becoming the subject of an ethical complaint, let’s look at a few of the potential problems with the disclaimers.
Email Disclaimers May Have Limited Effectiveness
Does your email automatically include a disclaimer about potentially privileged information? Keep in mind that disclaimer will attach to any email you send. It doesn’t matter if you’re emailing a client, sending a personal email, or trying to remove yourself from an email list. Some experts believe that because email disclaimers are overused, its effectiveness is limited.
The Disclaimer on Your Law Firm Website
The disclaimer on your law firm website is thought by experts to be more effective than an email website. This is because the website is designed for the general public, much like a print ad of some sort. So, anyone who chooses to visit your law firm website will be exposed to the disclaimer.
Is Your Disclaimer Actually Seen?
If you get an email, you can open it, archive it, delete it, or leave it as unread. You don’t have to read it to delete or archive it. This highlights the next potential problem. Is your disclaimer actually being seen? If the disclaimer isn’t actually seen, the court (and ethics regulators) may very well decide the disclaimer does no good.
On Overly Broad Disclaimer Isn’t Helpful
Many law firm website disclaimers are overly broad. They try to protect the firm or writer from liability due to an error, omission, misunderstanding, typo, an accidental violation of the law, and many other things. Also, keep in mind that since you’re likely delivering the disclaimer through email or on your website. You don’t have a character or word count limitation like you would if you used print media. It’s easy to just keep writing. When a disclaimer is extremely long, it could be interpreted on a very narrow basis.
Think about the direct mailers of old. A common disclaimer was how the letter or advertisement did not create an attorney-client relationship. It might also include a reference to local rules. They’re short, sweet, and may be more favorably looked upon by ethics investigators than overly broad disclaimers.
Keep It Clear and Concise
Keep the law firm website disclaimer because it could be shown in the future that they are helpful. However, keep it clear and concise. Write your disclaimer several times. Try to keep it to 100 words or less. Write multiple versions of it: one for emails, one for your website, one for your blog, and one for any other reason you may have. Review the rules for your jurisdiction and make sure you’ve covered what you need to cover. Be reasonable in your disclaimer.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This post does not constitute legal advice and it does not create an attorney-client relationship between you, the reader, and Zavieh Law. If you misunderstood this post, read it again. If it’s still unclear, ask a friend to read it and help you.