By Anja van den Berg
Lawyers used to be prohibited from marketing their services. Times have changed, however, and legislation has changed with it.
The implementation of the Legal Practice Act (Act 28 of 2014) allows attorneys to advertise and market their services.
As set out in Government Gazette No. 39740 (the “Rules”), the uniform Rules for the Attorneys’ Profession stipulate how attorneys should conduct themselves with regard to promotion and marketing.
Lawyers may now utilise most mass media platforms, including television, radio and billboards – provided that the advertisements comply with the Rules.
But what about social media?
Indeed, says the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA). Facebook marketing, YouTube advertising, Instagram posts and LinkedIn promotions are all allowed. Social media platforms are expressly permitted under the heading of Approaches and Publicity at point 41.1 of the Rules.
An International Bar Association survey, published in February 2012, measured the perception of social media advertising among legal practitioners.
Pertaining to South Africa, only 15% of the respondents felt that an attorney’s use of online social networks negatively affects the public’s confidence in the integrity and professionalism of the legal profession. More than 75% of respondents considered the advantages of online social networking to outweigh its disadvantages.
The nature of their work means that attorneys need to take heed of expectations when they advertise on social media. Writing for the LSSA, senior attorney Mark Heyink, who specialises in information and communications technologies law, advises attorneys to take the following points into account:
- Take confidentiality very seriously
Attorneys have a professional duty to maintain the confidentiality of information entrusted to them by their clients. The same kind of conversation an attorney might have with colleagues could explode in a social media environment. The potential for an infinitely wide audience means that a topic deemed as “interesting” might end up as a perceived breach of confidentiality. If peers and clients feel that the attorney is careless, the firm may face significant reputational damage. Heyink says that attorneys shouldn’t bargain on the privacy setting as it is not impenetrable and often offer the illusion of confidentiality.
- If you use it, use it properly
Social media is dynamic, and merely creating online profiles without managing them well might reflect poorly on the firm’s professionalism. Like any other business with a successful social media presence, law firms need to start with a strategy followed by regular posts and interacting with the community. Firms should consider hiring an experienced social media consultant who understands each social media account’s differences and objectives.
- Law firms may engage advertising agencies
According to point 41.2 of the Rules, attorneys are entitled to engage third party companies to advertise and market their services, such as advertising agencies. However, advertising agencies should be aware that engaging in touting, where the attorney offers an incentive of any kind to refer professional work, is prohibited. Also, advertising agencies may not be expected to solicit individual clients and direct the clients to the firm for reward or gain.
In addition, no advertisements may be developed to procure work where another attorney has received instruction. Promotions may not be offensive or inappropriate, or misrepresent the services being offered.
Law Society of South Africa: https://www.lssa.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LSSA-Introduction-to-Social-Media_Legal-Implications-for-SA-Law-Firms-and-draft-policy-December-2012.pdf
One Legal Advertising: https://www.onelegaladvertising.com/post/can-attorneys-advertise-in-a-digital-south-africa
Go Legal: https://www.golegal.co.za/benefits-social-media-lawyers/