Wisconsin Lawyer: Ethics: Using Client Testimonials on Websites:

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Format: MM/DD/YYYY
    March
    10
    2021

    Ethics: Using Client Testimonials on Websites

    Advertising of legal services is not a free-for-all. Lawyers must comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct when deciding which information, such as client testimonials, to put on their websites.

    Dean R. Dietrich

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    Question

    I am adding information to my website and want to include some testimonials from clients about my services. What steps do I have to take to do this?

    Answer

    The general requirements for lawyer advertising are found in SCR 20:7.1-7.5 of the Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct. The watch words for lawyer advertising are that the advertising or statements cannot be false or misleading. Under this proposal, there are two areas of primary concern: 1) the lawyer does have to obtain informed consent from a client to put any testimonial from the client on the lawyer’s web page because the client information is confidential under SCR 20:1.6, and 2) the lawyer may not pay a client or offer the client a fee discount in exchange for the client agreeing to write a testimonial that is posted on the lawyer’s website.

    Dean R. DietrichDean R. Dietrich, Marquette 1977, of law firm of Dietrich VanderWaal Law Group SC, Wausau, is past chair of the State Bar Professional Ethics Committee.

    The reference to confidential information should not be a surprise. Anything related to a representation is confidential under SCR 20:1.6. A lawyer can disclose confidential client information only 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 case, the only provision that seems to apply is that the lawyer must get informed consent from the client to release confidential information regarding the representation. 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. 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. Above all, the lawyer may not allow a testimonial to be posted on a 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 might be considered false or misleading if it omits pertinent facts or information such that the statements can be misunderstood or be misleading to another.

    Lawyers can ask a client to write a testimonial that would be posted on the lawyer’s website provided the lawyer gets informed consent and the information in the testimonial complies with the lawyer advertising rules, particularly under SCR 20:7.1.

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    Questions about ethics or practice management? Confidential assistance is a phone call or click away:

    Ethics Hotline:
    (800) 254-9154, or (608) 229-2017
    9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday- Friday.

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    org practicehelp wisbar wisbar practicehelp org

    » Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 38 (March 2021).




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