Advertisement with URL and No Other Identifying Information
Opinion rules that a billboard advertisement need not contain the lawyer’s name, firm name, or the firm’s office address if the URL address on the advertisement lands on the lawyer’s website where such information can be easily found.
Editor’s Note: The opinion is not limited to billboard advertisements; it applies to all forms of legal advertisement.
Law Firm owns numerous Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) such as www.ABCtowndwi.com. Each of the URLs is a “landing page” for Law Firm’s website. Law Firm’s website includes Law Firm’s full name, the names of the individual lawyers in Law Firm, and Law Firm’s office address.
Law Firm would like to start a billboard advertising campaign. Law firm does not want to include Law Firm’s full name, the names of the individual lawyers in Law Firm, or Law Firm’s office address in the advertisement, but does intend to include one of the URLs.
Is the proposed billboard campaign permissible under the Rules of Professional Conduct?
Yes. Rule 7.1 requires all communications about a lawyer and the lawyer’s services to be truthful and not misleading. Rule 7.2(c) requires any communication about a lawyer or a lawyer’s services to include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.
Traditionally, Rule 7.2(c) has been applied so as to require all forms of print and media legal advertising to include the listed information to avoid misleading the public about the identity of the responsible lawyer or firm and the location of the firm. However, the Rules of Professional Conduct are rules of reason to be applied in a reasonable manner under the circumstances. See Rule 0.2, Scope, cmt. . For example, in 2012 FEO 6, the Ethics Committee determined that a law firm may use a leased time-shared office address or a post office address to satisfy the address disclosure requirement for advertising communications in Rule 7.2(c). In 2005 FEO 14, the Ethics Committee concluded that, “as long as a URL of a law firm is not otherwise misleading or false and the homepage of the website identifies the sponsoring law firm or lawyer, the URL does not have to contain language specifically identifying the website as one belonging to a law firm.” Similarly, 2017 FEO 1 holds that a text message advertisement that does not include the lawyer’s office address but does include the lawyer’s website address, where the office address can be found, satisfies the requirements of Rule 7.2(c).
A law firm’s website will generally contain more than enough information to satisfy the requirements of Rule 7.2(c) and avoid misleading the public. Utilizing a website address in an advertisement actually provides a consumer with the ability to access more information about the lawyer or law firm than an advertisement that contains only the lawyer’s or the firm’s name and office address. Therefore, an advertisement that includes a URL for a law firm’s website complies with Rule 7.2(c) so long as the law firm’s website contains the law firm’s official name or trade name, or the name of a responsible lawyer, and the firm’s office address. The firm name, trade name, or the name of the lawyer must appear on the website homepage. The firm’s office address need not appear on the homepage provided it can be easily found on the website.