A Guide to Legal Advertising in the U.S. And Canada

Almost every profession has to engage in some type of advertising, but certain fields are required to adhere to stricter standards than others. This is most relevant when talking about things like prescription drugs, health care, and even legal services. Lawyers and law firms are permitted to advertise their services in the U.S. and Canada, but that doesn’t mean they can say whatever they want to in their ads. There are strict guidelines from both the government and local bar associations that govern how lawyers can and can’t advertise their services. If you want to learn more, keep reading for a guide to legal advertising in the U.S. and Canada.

What do legal professionals need to know about advertising?

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Legal professionals need to be aware of the restrictions surrounding advertising their products and services in the country where they operate. Effective advertising is essential, and to that end, it’s important that you spend time researching effective ways to communicate your message. Signing up for an ad creative newsletter can help, delivering insights and information directly to your inbox on a regular basis. But creating an action plan based on that knowledge can be more difficult, especially in a field like law.

Lawyers can look to Malliha Wilson for an example of a Canadian lawyer who markets her considerable skills and experience effectively. Malliha is a Tamil Canadian lawyer who was the assistant deputy attorney general for the Government of Ontario for almost a decade. As the first visible minority to hold the office, Malliha Wilson knows how difficult and important it is to fight for your career and make sure that you can share your work and accomplishments with the public.

What restrictions exist on legal advertising in the U.S. and Canada?

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The U.S. and Canada may be nearby, but their legal systems are different, so it’s important to understand what types of advertisements are allowed in each country if you’re a legal professional. In the United States, both state courts and bar association rules apply to advertising legal services. In general, any media that suggests hiring a particular attorney is considered an advertisement, and spending on legal ads is increasing significantly.

In the U.S., “shock” advertisements, like those that depict serious crimes or accidents in graphic detail, are generally prohibited, as is directly soliciting clients with a known case. Presenting information that is false, misleading, or deceptive is forbidden. These rules are typically judged by the “least sophisticated customer” standard, which means that advertisements must be considered from the point of view of someone with no legal knowledge. Other restrictions include requiring that speaking roles in commercials be played by attorneys or identified as non-attorneys, the use of particular backdrops, or guarantees for any particular result.

In Canada, the rules are also dependent on the province you live in, though they are similar to the rules in the United States in most places. In Ontario, for example, the Law Society of Ontario says that lawyers can market legal services only if they can demonstrate that the content of the ad is “true, accurate, and verifiable.” Specific regulations prohibit any form of advertising that is designed to confuse, mislead, or deceive. They also stipulate that ads be in the best interest of the public and are held to high standards of professionalism.

The rules surrounding advertising legal services are in place for good reason. While it’s important for lawyers to be able to communicate with potential clients about their services and their rights to file a lawsuit, it’s also important to make sure clients receive accurate information that they can use to make legal decisions. Advertisements that use shock value, deception, or misleading information are broadly prohibited in both the United States and Canada, though the details can vary depending on which province or state you practice in.