Use of Client Testimonials in Advertising
Opinion rules that testimonials that discuss characteristics of a lawyer’s client service may be used in lawyer advertising without the use of a disclaimer. Testimonials that refer generally to results may be used so long as the testimonial is accompanied by an appropriate disclaimer. The reference to specific dollar amounts in client testimonials is prohibited.
Are testimonials that merely imply positive results but do not state specific results considered "soft" endorsements under 2007 FEO 4? Some examples are, "the attorney did a great job for me," "I was pleased with the outcome of my case," or "I can get my life back on track now."
Are testimonials that do not include any specific monetary amounts but do indicate a favorable result considered soft endorsements? Some examples of these types of testimonials are, "He was able to get my case settled to my satisfaction," "the charges against me were dropped/dismissed," "my medical bills were covered/paid," or "I was able to get Social Security/workers’ compensation benefits."
If these kinds of testimonials are not considered soft endorsements, are they still permissible in legal advertising? Do they require disclaimer language similar to language required by 2009 FEO 16?
Testimonials that discuss characteristics of a lawyer’s client service may be used in lawyer advertising without the use of a disclaimer. Testimonials that refer generally to results may be used so long as the testimonial is accompanied by an appropriate disclaimer. The reference to specific dollar amounts in client testimonials is prohibited.
Rule 7.1 provides that a lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. A communication that is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve is misleading. Rule 7.1(a)(2). Depending upon their content, client testimonials have the potential to create unjustified expectations.
A distinction can be drawn between "hard" and "soft" testimonials. A "hard" testimonial goes to the outcome of a case or matter. A "soft" testimonial does not go to the outcome of the case or matter, but rather focuses on shared values or characteristics of the lawyer’s client service.
The Ethics Committee has concluded that a lawyer may incorporate "soft" client endorsements in their advertising materials without violating Rule 7.1. See 2007 FEO 4. A lawyer may use client testimonials stating that a lawyer handled a case efficiently, always acted in a professional manner, was considerate of the client’s particular needs, etc. Examples of other soft endorsements include:
- "The lawyer was very knowledgeable."
- "The service provided by the law firm was excellent."
- "The attorney was very patient."
- "We were very impressed and pleased with the commitment to service."
- "My experience was one of courtesy and I found myself at ease at all times."
See Conn. Informal Op. 01-07 (2001). These statements are permissible under Rule 7.1 because they do not refer to the outcome of a particular matter and do not create unjustified expectations about the results the lawyer can achieve in any case.
"Hard" testimonials, or testimonials that indicate a particular favorable result in a case, have the potential to mislead a potential client to form an unjustified expectation that the same results can be obtained on his or her behalf. Examples of such statements include:
- "The charges against me were dropped/dismissed."
- "My medical bills were covered/paid."
- "I was able to get Social Security/workers' compensation benefits."
- "My lawyer settled my case for $500,000."
Comment  to Rule 7.1 states that the creation of unjustified expectations may be prevented by the use of an appropriate disclaimer. In that regard, the Ethics Committee previously approved the use of disclaimers to cure the potentially misleading nature of case summary sections on a law firm’s website. See 2009 FEO 16. The New York State Bar has applied the same rationale to client testimonials. See NY State Bar Assoc. Comm. on Prof'l Ethics, Op. 771 (2003).
We similarly conclude that a lawyer may include in marketing materials client testimonials that refer generally to the outcome of a specific matter, so long as the testimonials are accompanied by an appropriate and effective disclaimer. The reference to specific dollar amounts in client testimonials is prohibited.
The disclaimer must comply with the requirements set out in Rule 7.1(b) pertaining to communications containing dramatizations. Pursuant to Rule 7.1(b), the disclaimer may be oral or written. The disclaimer must appear or be spoken at the beginning and the end of the communication and must be conspicuous. For example, any written disclaimer accompanying a written testimonial must be printed in the same font size and color as the font size and color used for the testimonial. Any oral disclaimer accompanying an oral testimonial must be spoken at the same volume as the testimonial and must be spoken at a conversational speed that is easily understood.
A written disclaimer accompanying an oral testimonial on a television advertisement must appear on the screen in a conspicuous font size and color and must appear for a sufficient amount of time that a lawyer can reasonably conclude that a reasonably competent individual viewing the advertisement has the time to read the disclaimer.
For video testimonials embedded in a law firm website, the video may contain the written or oral disclaimer as described above. Alternatively, the webpage containing the link to the testimonial video may display a conspicuous written disclaimer directly above or below the link to the video containing the testimonial.
Are the requirements under the Rules of Professional Conduct for client testimonials in television, radio advertisements, billboards, or video clips on websites different than the requirements for testimonials in written or printed materials?
No. However, certain mediums would not allow for a disclaimer that would meet the requirements set out above. For example, it is not reasonable to expect a driver to have time to read a disclaimer on a roadside billboard.