As a marketing and PR agency with law firm clients in New Jersey, we assist law firms in complying with the Rules of Professional Conduct for all of their advertising and their marketing language on their websites.

If your firm is based in New Jersey or you have an office in New Jersey, you need to be aware of New Jersey’s Rules of Professional Conduct; specifically, direction from the Committee on Attorney Advertising as appointed by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. The committee’s role is to educate the Bar as to the ethical limitations of advertising, and to balance attorney promotion with the need to avoid misleading the public. Compliance with the advertising rules is a requirement.

Your firm can avoid or fix noncompliance by taking a comprehensive look at your website and reviewing how your law firm promotes rankings, case results, testimonials, and other content.

You’re probably aware of the required disclaimers — “No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey” and "Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances” — but there’s more to know. Correcting noncompliant attorney advertising may be time-intensive but it’s a critical effort that can offset the chance of a website review by the committee.

Legal Awards and Recognitions

We encourage marketing departments, ethics chairs, and law firm management to read Opinion 48, Supplementing Opinion 42: Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1(a)(3) – Honors, Awards, and Accolades that Compare Lawyers’ Services With Other Lawyers’ Services (2002).

Opinion 48 states that the methodology of an award or ranking must include a rigorous and independent inquiry into the named lawyer’s qualifications and fitness, and that firms may not tout awards that do not include a bona fide inquiry into the fitness of the lawyer. Opinion 48 provides examples of rankings that have met the methodology criteria. Many rankings do not meet this standard and therefore cannot be promoted by the firm or the lawyer.

The committee requires that every reference to an award must include:

  • A description of the standard or methodology on which the award, honor or accolade is based, either in the advertising itself or by reference to a “convenient, publicly available source”;
  • The name of the comparing organization that issued the award; and
  • This disclaimer: “No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.”

To comply with the requirements, the language must be in “close proximity” to the reference to the award, honor or accolade, even when it is in an abbreviated form such as a badge or logo.

Our recommendation is to create a distinct awards methodology webpage that lists every award mentioned on the firm’s website, with current links to the official methodologies provided by each ranking’s organization or publication. A link to this methodology page should be prominent to website visitors; many firms include the link in the site footer.

Of note, Opinion 48 states that Best Lawyers® and Super Lawyers® do meet the requirement of having bona fide methodologies. The publishers of these awards also require compliance with promotional language. It’s important to check biography narratives, press releases, and rankings listings to correct any noncompliant language, such as “she is a best lawyer” or “he is a super lawyer” and replace with phrasing that uses “included in …”

Case Results

Rule 7.1 – Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Service prohibits law firms in New Jersey from creating unjustified expectations about results a lawyer can achieve. Opinion 15 (1993), provides this explanation: “[S]tatements regarding past performance may well create the unjustified expectation that similar results can be obtained for others without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances.”

To be compliant with this rule, law firms must include this disclaimer, “Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstance,” on all mentions of results. We recommend reviewing your website for noncompliance by looking at bio narratives, practice area descriptions, representative matters, verdicts and settlements, case studies, firm news, and other firm descriptions to make sure that language is included, and add it if needed.

Client Testimonials

Opinion 33 states that client testimonials on a firm’s website must include the name of the client. The format of the client’s name must be either:

  • Full name
  • Initials
  • First name and last initial, or
  • First name

Any testimonial must, in fact, be a client or former client. In certain cases, the committee may request the full name of a person who has written a review that the firm has included in advertising materials.

Of note, firms in New Jersey are not permitted to promote quotes from Chambers because these are unattributed.

Help with Questions

Please contact me, Liz Lindley, with any questions about New Jersey and attorney advertising compliance. If I can’t provide an answer, I’ll point you to the Office of Attorney Ethics, which is available to assist attorneys. I can be reached at llindley@jaffepr.com.