I am building more information on my website and want to put some testimonials from clients about my services. What steps do I have to take to do this?
The general requirements for lawyer advertising are found in SCR 20:7.1-7.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The watch words for lawyer advertising are that the advertising or statements may not be false or misleading.
Under your proposal, there are two areas of primary concern: 1) you do have to obtain informed consent from your clients to put any testimonial from a client on your web page because the client information is confidential under SCR 20:1.6, and 2) you may not pay a client or offer the client a discount on fees if the client agrees to write a testimonial that is posted on your website.
The reference to confidential information should not be a surprise. Anything related to a representation is confidential under SCR 20:1.6. You may only disclose confidential client information if the client gives informed consent, the disclosure of the information is impliedly authorized to engage in the representation, or the disclosure of the information falls under one of the exceptions to the confidentiality requirement.
In this situation, the only provision that seems to apply is the one requiring that you get informed consent from the client to release confidential information regarding the representation. You must remember that informed consent requires an explanation of the consequences of disclosing the confidential information and a discussion of alternatives to the disclosure of the information (such as not posting a testimonial or not disclosing the client’s name).
The requirements of SCR 20:7.1 are more specific. The lawyer may not pay a client (or offer a discount to a client) in exchange for the client’s agreement to write a testimonial that would be posted on the lawyer’s web page, unless that fact is disclosed as part of the testimonial. The lawyer also may not post information that compares the lawyer’s services to those of another lawyer unless the basis for the comparison can be clearly shown and justified. Also, the testimonial cannot create an expectation about the results the lawyer could achieve in a representation.
The lawyer may not pay a client (or offer a discount to a client) in exchange for the client’s agreement to write a testimonial that would be posted on the lawyer’s web page.
Above all, the lawyer may not post a testimonial to be posted on the web page if the testimonial contains false or misleading information – even if that information is provided by the client who wrote the testimonial. It is also important to remember that information may be false or misleading if it omits pertinent facts or information such that the statements can be misunderstood or be misleading to another.
A lawyer can ask a client to write a testimonial that would be posted on the lawyer’s website provided the lawyer obtains informed consent and the information in the testimonial complies with the lawyer advertising rules, particularly under SCR 20:7.1.
Need Ethics Advice?
As a State Bar member, you have access to informal guidance and help in resolving questions regarding Wisconsin’s Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys.
Ethics Hotline: To informally discuss an ethics question, contact State Bar ethics counselors Timothy Pierce or Aviva Kaiser. They can be reached at (608) 229-2017 or (800) 254-9154, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m to 4 p.m.