These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
 Back to main menu

  Print This Leo
LEO NumTopicsSummary

13-Marketing - Miscellaneous


In a general discussion of lawyer and law firm websites, the ABA explains that: (1) websites can include information about clients and matters, as long as the website keeps the information up to date (and thus is not misleading) and "as long as the clients or former clients give informed consent" to the inclusion of "[s]pecific information that identifies current or former clients or the scope of their matters"; (2) websites can include information about the law, as long as it is accurate, current and not misleading (acknowledging that it is difficult to draw the line between general legal information and specific legal advice, and suggesting that it would be "prudent" for websites to warn visitors "that the legal information provided is general and should not be relied on as legal advice" -- which "cannot be given without full consideration of all relevant information relating to the visitor's individual situation"); (3) websites allow lawyers to "control features and contents so as to invite, encourage, limit, or discourage the flow of information to and from website visitors" -- which will help determine if a visitor has initiated a "discussion" that could render the visitor a "prospective client" under Rule 1.18 (contrasting a website that encourages visitors to "submit a personal inquiry about a proposed representation" and a website that simply lists information about the lawyer and includes contact information, which "alone does not create a reasonable expectation that the lawyer is willing to discuss a specific client lawyer relationship"; warning that "[i]mprecision in a website message and failure to include a clarifying disclaimer may result in a website visitor reasonably viewing the website communication itself as the first step in a discussion"; in analyzing the "significantly harmful" standard under Rule 1.18; explaining that a prospective client that discloses "only an intention to bring a particular lawsuit" normally will not be able to argue that such information could be "significantly harmful"; (4) a website's "[w]arnings or cautionary statements . . . can be designed to and may effectively limit, condition, or disclaim a lawyer's obligation to a website reader," as long as they are "reasonably understandable, properly placed, and not misleading." Among other things, such language "should be conspicuously placed to assure that the reader is likely to see it before proceeding." Such language can avoid misunderstandings about the creation of a client lawyer relationship, a visitor's expectation of confidentiality, the absence of "legal advice" on the website and whether "the lawyer will be prevented from representing an adverse party."

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn