6 Unethical Attorney Advertising Examples to Avoid

Learn what unethical attorney advertising practices look like – and how to avoid them at all costs – with these examples.


Attorney advertising practices like building out a website or blog, having a social media presence, appearing in legal directories or developing a lawyer PPC strategy are all permissible – under certain regulations.

While the American Bar Association has some rules for ethical attorney advertising practices, many additional rules are set at the state level. Avoid any unethical advertising practices by reviewing your state’s specific set of rules. We won’t be able to comprehensively cover these in this guide because there are hundreds, so you should take time to learn what’s ethical – and what isn’t – in the state of your practice.

Yes, there are many rules – but make no mistake: the ABA does encourage attorneys to advertise their services. These regulations are simply in place to prevent unethical practices. 

Here are six unethical attorney advertising practices examples your firm should avoid:

1) Language related to fees
2) Statements implying or predicting success
3) Improper actor portrayals
4) Incorrect or incomplete disclaimers
5) Offering compensation for reviews or referrals
6) Language related to specialties or expertise
BONUS: How to grow your practice without advertising

Using the wrong words in your advertising practices can be detrimental. One such restriction on language in attorney advertising is related to fees, such as requiring attorneys using cost-contingent advertising to have disclaimers mentioning that a client may be responsible for additional filing or administrative fees. 

Other states go as far as to prohibit language relating to “limited time” offers, “giveaways,” “low-cost” rates or “discounts.” A general, ethical attorney advertising practice is to always be very clear and honest in your marketing language. Misleading potential clients is not only unethical, but can cause broken trust down the line.

2) Statements implying or predicting success

While statements outright saying that an individual would have a successful case outcome if they choose to go with your law firm are pretty obviously a big no, even statements implying success are a step too far.

Since you can’t know with 100 percent certainty that a case will end in a favorable outcome, implying that it will is considered a false or misleading statement. In some states, it’s considered unethical to even advertise success rates of past cases you or your firm has worked on. 

3) Actor portrayals

Video is a highly effective and engaging method of attorney advertising, and it is permissible. However, when creating videos for advertising your law firm, you must understand what is ethical in terms of actor portrayals.

For example, if you choose to have actors portray lawyers instead of using your own firm’s lawyers, there must be a prominent disclaimer telling the audience that it is an actor portrayal. We will warn you that actor portrayals for your firm can come across as staged and inauthentic to the audience you are trying to reach, especially if done poorly, so tread carefully.

If you stage any kind of reenactment of an issue, such as a semi-truck accident, you must have a disclaimer stating that it is a reenactment and not an actual accident being shown. 

Additionally, it is prohibited to use actors to portray law enforcement officers or judges to advertise your firm. 

Many states have their own rules regarding actor portrayals in attorney advertising, so review those before investing in any video production for your firm.

4) Incorrect or incomplete disclaimers

We’ve talked a bit about adding the proper disclaimers to actor portrayals and on your website – but what does that actually look like?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all disclaimer we can give you because – once again – each state has its own rules regarding what your disclaimer should say. Some even have regulations on where the disclaimer must be placed for specific advertising tactics, like on your firm’s website. 

Generally, most disclaimers must mention that the information provided is meant as legal information and not legal advice. You should include this disclaimer on each page of your website to protect your firm. 

Some states have rules that aren’t obvious, so it is in your firm’s best interest to look those up and fully understand them beforehand.

5) Offering compensation for reviews or referrals

Offering compensation for reviews or referrals is a prohibited practice, not only for attorneys, but for professions across the board. This is to prevent dishonest or inflated evaluations that future clients base their decisions to hire on.

Compensation does not just refer to paying a former client for their opinion. It can also mean offering free services, a discount, gift cards, or anything else a client might benefit from in exchange for providing reviews or referrals.

How to ethically ask for reviews

It is possible – and valuable – for your firm to ethically obtain reviews. Getting great reviews from satisfied clients begins with the trust-driven business model.

Trust-driven law firms get more clients, have higher retention rates, charge more for their services and have lower overall marketing costs. That’s because this method of doing business places the client’s trust on top of everything else.

When seeking out a lawyer, 95 percent of people say that reviews help them in making that decision. Client trust is an asset of the highest value, because when clients trust you, they are willing and excited to recommend you to others. 

Here’s how to ethically ask for reviews from your clients:

  1. Establish that trust. Developing a trust-driven relationship is not only a good business practice, but it will make your firm better in the long-run.
  2. Send review requests at least once a week. Ask your pool of new clients for reviews each week so they can provide feedback when the experience with you is still fresh in their minds.
  3. Follow-up. Sometimes clients will intend to leave a review and just forget. Follow up with those who don’t initially respond to your review request a week later.
  4. Automate the process with our online review management tool. Most firms are busy enough that that aren’t able to manually request reviews from every single client. Automate the process with our easy-to-use platform that follows all of the above best practices.

Your firm’s website must refrain from using words like “specialized,” “expert,” or “expertise” unless you are certified through the Board of Legal Specialization in your state of practice. This is one of the most common violations of ethical attorney advertising practices, as lawyers will often use these terms without realizing there is an issue with it.

The reason these terms are not permitted on firm websites without certification is to prevent misleading claims from being made to potential clients. You may say you are able or available to practice a certain type of law, but you cannot claim you are an expert in that field unless certified to say so.

BONUS: How to grow your practice without advertising

If you prefer to start small, there are a couple of ways you can increase awareness of and grow your practice without advertising in the traditional sense:

Improve SEO

Search Engine Optimization is the practice of optimizing your website so it shows up organically on search engine results pages, like Google. This is especially valuable because 96 percent of those who need a lawyer seek advice from a search engine first.

It takes time to do this well, but with a proper attorney SEO strategy set in place, you can soon be on your way to higher Google rankings. 

Get more reviews

As mentioned above, positive online reviews are incredibly helpful for attracting those who need to hire a lawyer. Eighty-four percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as they do a personal recommendation from a friend, so they hold a lot of weight. 

Learn how to get more client reviews to improve your reputation online – and remember – keeping client trust on top will ease this process dramatically.