Lawyers like protective language. Our contracts are full of legalese designed to protect us from disappointed clients or angry vendors. But what about online? Does your law blog need a disclaimer?
Your Law Blog Is Not Legal Advice
Lawyers can maintain law blogs without violating the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Responsibility (remember your state’s ethics code may be different). These online publications are no different, legally speaking, from the horn books we all relied on in law school, or the Bar Journal articles we all wanted to publish as 3Ls. As licensed attorneys, we may be called to write CLE content or contribute to magazines or newspapers. All of this is ethically allowed. Why? Because your law blog is not legal advice.
A law blog can be a lot of things:
- A place to publicize your successes
- A home for client testimonials
- A place to opine on new cases or statutes
- An information source for potential clients
But even when a post provides general legal information like “5 Estate Planning Documents You Don’t Want to Forget” or “What Happens in a Divorce?” it still doesn’t cross the line into legal advice. That’s because your law blog does not address any reader’s particular circumstances. It simply states what the law is.
Your Readers Don’t Know That
Most lawyers have had some potential client that decided they are his or her lawyer without ever paying a retainer or signing a fee agreement. Just by meeting with you, they assume that you are not only a lawyer, you are their lawyer.
The same is true online. People can sometimes assume that by posting a comment or emailing a question, they have hired you as their lawyer. It’s not necessarily true that they are trying to get something for nothing. But they may think your blog is offering more than information.
A Legal Disclaimer Clarifies Your Law Blog’s Purpose
Lawyers are great at covering liability with words. We know that the law generally allows us to clarify ambiguous questions – like when an attorney-client relationship is formed – with more words. In this case, a legal disclaimer.
A law blog disclaimer clarifies the informational purpose of your blog. Reading or commenting on your posts doesn’t mean you have to do anything. It also warns not to pass private information through your contact form, and satisfies various other advertisement warnings required by your state’s rules for professional responsibility. Here’s a sample legal disclaimer:
This website and blog are provided as general information only. Nothing here should substitute for personalized legal advice. Don’t rely on this information without talking to a licensed attorney. No attorney-client relationship is created or implied through the use of this website. Every case is different. Past success does not guarantee future results. Laws can change frequently and often vary based on the jurisdiction. The information on this site is based on [your jurisdiction’s] law, unless otherwise stated. To reach an attorney responsible for the content of this site, contact us.
By putting this disclaimer in your footer, or linking to it on each blog, you can rest assured that your readers are on notice that you aren’t their lawyer until they contact you and sign on as a client.
Other Legalese You May Need
There is such a thing as too much legalese, even in the fine print. But there are a few other disclaimers that could be helpful.
- If you accept comments on your blog, or invite readers to subscribe for newsletters or RSS feeds, you may need further legal disclaimers about the retention or use of private information.
- If you are creating unique content (like your blog), you should include a copyright mark including your firm entity and the year in the footer of each page.
- If you use any photos that don’t either (A) belong to you, or (B) have a CC0 or Public Domain designation, you will need to give proper attribution for each photo. You can do this as a caption or as credits at the bottom of the post.
If your firm maintains a law blog, you will need to take care to protect yourself against malpractice claims, misunderstandings, and copyright issues. You can do this simply by installing legal disclaimers, copyright designations, and terms of service into the framework of your website and cover yourself from surprise liability.
Lisa Schmidt is the writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She writes blogs and web content for law firms and small businesses. If you need help crafting legal disclaimers for your blog, contact Legal Linguist to schedule a meeting.