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Comply or DIE! New New York Lawyer Advertising Rules Take Effect Today…February 1, 2007

Just kidding about the “death” reference. The much-talked about changes to the attorney advertising rules in New York take effect today. And in the end, New York proved no better (or worse) than the majority of state bars in creating different standards for what is and is not kosher.

Don’t believe what you read

Outside of what you read here. In perusing dozens of articles and blog posts, I read dozens of inaccuracies and inaccurate quotes (a lot of those interviewed misspoke about what the rules were all about). One article quoted a legal marketer that said these rules effected few attorneys in New York (do you know anything about law firm business development?). An attorney cited that NY was at the forefront of these advertising ethics issues (you are not). And I read lots of quotes from non-lawyer marketers that have no say or influence in these decisions. Attorneys that make up the state bar decide what attorneys are going to do.

The reality? The whole thing was much ado about nothing. There are a few hoops to jump through. But, issues that every state keeps grappling with remain unresolved. And if you know how to issue-spot (I hope you do, if you went to law school), then you should be able to write a professional responsibility final exam poking holes through much of them.

In a nutshell, what do I do?

Since you are not likely a paying client of my firm (they receive detailed and specific marketing ethics compliance advice…this is not legal advice…consult your individual attorney…your results may vary), here is what you need to be sure about:

  1. If you are a New York law firm or promote a New York office, you need to have the words “ATTORNEY ADVERTISING” on your home page. Not on every page. Depending on the promotional use of representative clients and matters, you may need additional disclaimer language.
  2. The retention rule for NY is three years for all traditional marketing materials. However, electronic (i.e. web and mail) are one year (and only “minor modifications” to the web site need to be copied and retained).
  3. Testimonials are still OK in most instances, but require additional disclaimer and other rule compliance.
  4. The Man from UNCLE can still do a paid endorsement, just so you let people know he was paid to do so and is not really a partner at your firm (although he looks damn close).
  5. While you can not use monikers, nicknames or mottos, you can list “bona fide professional ratings.” Good luck with that one, New York. If I have a billboard that says “It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s SUPER LAWYER,” have I complied? And outside of hearing from the IP attorneys at Marvel Comics, what are you going to do about it?
  6. Your best bet is to read the actual red-lined version of the rules, and educate your attorneys and marketing staff on them. That is what I do with many of the law firms where I assist with marketing ethics compliance. You should do the same.