Is Your LinkedIn Profile Violating Attorney Advertising Rules? Depends.
The vast majority of lawyers have a LinkedIn page. Or if they don’t, their marketing department will make them create one eventually. Some use LinkedIn to build their profile and network, others to promote success, articles and speaking engagements. But is a LinkedIn page lawyer advertising and, if so, what must lawyers do to be sure they are on the right side of the Rules of Professional Conduct?
Rules 7.1 to 7.5 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct govern lawyer advertising and solicitation. Some states, like New York, provide very detailed rules about what an advertisement may or may not include (or what it must include), how long it should be retained, etc. In fact, whereas Mass. R. Prof. C. 7.1 contains only two sentences, its New York counterpart is more than three pages long.
Because of the more specific requirements in New York, an important issue for lawyers there (and other states with similarly detailed attorney advertising rules) is whether their individual profile on LinkedIn constitutes attorney advertising. If it is advertising, the attorney would have to comply with requirements like labeling the content “Attorney Advertising” and preserving a copy (of each iteration) for at least one year.
Last month, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York Committee on Professional Ethics issued a formal opinion that stated that a LinkedIn profile does not constitute attorney advertising unless it meets each of five criteria:
- It is a communication made by or on behalf of the lawyer;
- The primary purpose of the LinkedIn content is to attract new clients to retain the lawyer for pecuniary gain;
- The LinkedIn content relates to the legal services offered by the lawyer;
- The LinkedIn content is intended to be viewed by potential new clients; and
- The LinkedIn content does not fall within any recognized exception to the definition of attorney advertising. Formal Opinion 2015-7.
The NYC Committee report noted that it had come to a different conclusion that the Professional Ethics Committee of the New York County Lawyer’s Association (“NYCLA”), which had concluded in March 2015 that “[a] LinkedIn profile that contains only one’s education and current and past employment does not constitute Attorney Advertising[, but] [i]f an attorney chooses to include information such as practice areas, skills, endorsements, or recommendations, the attorney must treat his or her LinkedIn profile as attorney advertising and include appropriate disclaimers pursuant to Rule 7.1.”NYCLA Ethics Op. 748 (2015).
For practitioners in Massachusetts, the New York debate may be academic. There is no question that Massachusetts lawyers may advertise on the internet. See Mass. R. Prof. C. 7.2(a) (“Subject to the requirements of Rules 7.1 and 7.3, a lawyer may advertise services through written, recorded or electronic communication, including public media.”). And, even if an attorney’s LinkedIn profile were considered to be “advertising” in Massachusetts, the only requirement that the lawyer must comply with is the same requirement that runs through all of the Rules of Professional Conduct: honesty. See Mass. R. Prof. C. 7.1 (“A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.”). But this, of course, is the norm in all facets of legal practice. See, e.g., Mass. R. Prof. C. Preamble, 2.1, 3.3, 3.9, 4.1, 8.2, 8.4.
Thus, at least here in the Commonwealth, a lawyer who scrupulously insures that his or her LinkedIn profile is truthful and not at all false or misleading – including with respect to statements that the attorney is a “specialist” or “certified” in a particular field of law, see Mass. R. Prof. C. 7.4 – is within the bounds of our governing Rules.