The proliferation of lawyer websites, law firm websites, lawyer blogs and even LinkedIn profiles have literally exploded the amount of information available to consumers of legal services. There has been a steady debate about whether or not lawyer blogs constitute lawyer advertising and how the advertising rules impact law firm websites which often include testimonials, a listing of favorable results and representative clients. Within the LinkedIn community, clients can provide recommendations to the lawyers they’re connected to. Clients sometimes brag about their lawyers on bulletin board systems and even on their own websites.
I got in a debate the other day with a lawyer who believed that all of the above forms of information were unethical and constituted impermissible lawyer advertising. This lawyer’s view is that no lawyer should allow to have anything except a web page including your name, address and phone number. What a crock!
Anyone that would suggest that consumers were better off before the advent of the Internet in shopping for legal services is smoking crack. Anyone who’s worked in a law firm knows that the vast majority of clients walk in the door with absolutely no prior experience with attorneys, law firms, and in many instances legal services in general. Before the Internet, they were placed completely at the mercy of the lawyer sitting across the big fancy table. In that, “face-to-face” meeting, the chance that a consumer could escape without first paying a hefty retainer fee was slim to none. Even in matters in which the lawyer had no expertise, they could always sound smart enough to land the client.
In the Internet age, a client and virtually every possible legal matter can go to the Internet and educate themselves concerning the basic legal principles involved, review lawyer websites which explain the key elements, compare law firms through the information on their websites located all across the state, the country or the world. They can make calls and get free consultations from many different law firms before making a decision; providing the client with a variety of different fee options.
Of course, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the amount of pro bono information that is provided by every lawyer who blogs, providing scores of individuals who cannot afford any legal services in-depth information in order to engage in legal self-help.
I’ve always believed that there are really two classes of potential clients who might review information on the Internet. The first are injury clients who are often vulnerable. The second is everyone else. Most of whom are looking for legal advice regarding business, real estate and other matters which do not imply vulnerability. The concept that business people can be deceived by law firm websites which include a representative list of sample cases is laughable. The anti-advertising contingent builds its argument on the foundation that legal consumers are fundamentally stupid. I believe that most of that contingent is simply trying to avoid having to compete. They would prefer it if there were no ready options available to clients and virtually no information from which a perspective client can educate themselves. I believe it is the ethical duty of every lawyer to provide information concerning their practice, areas of specialization, representative cases and results. They should be obligated to provide information concerning the fee options and billing policies. Legal consumers win as information about lawyers and law firms proliferate, whether self-generated by the law firms and lawyers themselves or as commentary by other people. The people who contact our law firm are overwhelmingly smart, intelligent consumers who have contacted several law firms, educated themselves about the legal issue they are facing and ask all the right questions prior to retention.