The legal industry relies heavily on websites to market services, provide information to clients and prospective clients, and generally establish an online presence. However, legal industry websites have some unique compliance considerations that set them apart from other types of sites. From ethics rules regarding attorney advertising to security requirements for client data, legal websites require special care and planning.
This article examines key compliance issues and hosting considerations for legal industry websites. Topics include:
- Ethics rules for legal marketing and advertising
- Privacy policies and disclaimers
- Securing client data and communications
- Cloud vs. traditional web hosting models
- Planning for accessibility and disabilities compliance
- Responsive design for mobile platforms
- SSL certificates and HTTPS security
Following proper protocols in these areas helps mitigate risk and ensures legal websites remain useful, functional, and compliant with industry regulations.
Ethics Rules for Legal Marketing and Advertising
One major compliance consideration for legal websites is adherence to ethics rules regarding attorney advertising and marketing. Each state’s ethics rules differ in the specifics, but generally prohibit false or misleading communications about a lawyer’s services. Some key requirements include:
- Clearly identifying the sponsoring law firm or attorney on the website. This is required under ABA Model Rule 7.2.
- Listing all jurisdictions where the lawyer is licensed to practice. Visitors should not be misled into thinking the attorney can provide services in a state where they are not licensed.
- Providing full disclaimers if discussing case results. This includes clarifying that past outcomes do not guarantee future results.
- Ensuring communications are truthful and accurate. For example, lawyer rating sites cannot inflate or falsify an attorney’s credentials or experience.
- Including appropriate disclaimers and clearly differentiating legal commentary or news from promotional content.
Adhering to state bar association rules in the lawyer’s geographic area is crucial. Ethics committees regularly review complaints involving law firm websites to ensure compliance. This includes scrutinizing the overall tenor, disclaimers, and any potentially false or misleading information that could entice clients.
Privacy Policies and Disclaimers
Other common disclaimers include:
- Notices that site information does not constitute legal advice. Visitors must formally engage the firm’s services for counsel on a specific matter.
- Disclaimers that the website’s information is not guaranteed to be current or accurate. Details can change frequently.
- Statements that the site is attorney advertising and visitor usage constitutes acknowledgement of the disclaimer.
- Contact information for reporting ethics concerns related to the website.
Proper disclaimers protect the law firm while setting visitor expectations. They are a best practice for risk mitigation and compliance.
Securing Client Data and Communications
If a law firm website allows clients to log in to access confidential case materials, robust security is required. Ethical rules mandate that lawyers must make reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent data leaks or cybersecurity breaches.
Typical security measures include:
- Encryption for any login pages or portals to access documents. SSL certificates and HTTPS are ideal.
- Password policies that require strong client passwords. Features like two-factor authentication add further layers of protection.
- Access logs to track who views, downloads, or accesses documents.
- Secure cloud hosting that meets legal industry compliance standards.
- Strong firewalls and intrusion detection.
- Rapid patching and updates for any vulnerabilities in site software.
Regular audits by IT security professionals can identify potential gaps that need addressing. Maintaining rigorous security protects client confidentiality.
Cloud vs. Traditional Web Hosting for Law Firms
An important hosting decision for legal websites is whether to use cloud or traditional hosting. Each model has advantages:
Cloud hosting benefits:
- High scalability to accommodate growth and spikes in traffic.
- Potentially lower costs without large hardware investments.
- Automated redundancy and failover measures.
- Easy disaster recovery and backup capabilities.
- Robust security options and infrastructure.
- Frequent software updates and patch management.
Traditional dedicated server benefits:
- In-house control over all hardware and software.
- Ability to meet security needs with on-premise controls.
- Avoidance of third-party data storage.
- Potentially faster site performance without sharing resources.
Compatibility with practice management software and case management systems can help drive the decision. Many cloud platforms now meet rigorous legal industry standards for security and confidentiality.
Accessibility and Disabilities Compliance
To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar rules, legal websites must accommodate users with disabilities. Required measures include:
- Alt text descriptions for images, to support screen reader software.
- Ability to resize text and elements, for those with impaired vision.
- Captioning for multimedia content, such as videos.
- Keyboard accessibility for naviation, without requiring a mouse.
- Color contrast and design friendly to color blindness.
- Readable font choices and proper heading hierarchy.
- HTML validation to avoid issues that could impede screen readers.
Engaging accessibility consultants can help identify any deficiencies. Periodic testing with screen readers, magnification software, and other assistive tools maximizes compliance.
Responsive Mobile Design
With Googleprioritizing mobile-friendly pages, responsive design is essential for legal websites. This presents content optimized for all devices – desktop, tablets, and smartphones.
Elements of responsive mobile design include:
- Flexible layouts that adapt to different screen sizes.
- Adjusting font sizes and button sizes for easy tapping on touchscreens.
- Streamlined menus and navigation for quick access.
- Mobile optimization for fast load speeds.
- Minimal side scrolling, pinching, or zooming required.
- Placeholder images (lazy loading) to improve load times.
Testing the site on all major mobile platforms ensures a consistent experience. This is vital for modern web compliance.
SSL Certificates and HTTPS
Most legal websites should run on HTTPS rather than standard HTTP. The extra security of SSL certificates helps ensure site visitors’ data stays encrypted.
- Encryption against man-in-the-middle attacks that can steal data.
- Ability to securely exchange sensitive information.
- Extra protection for login pages.
- Boosted SEO and search ranking signals. Google prioritizes HTTPS sites.
- Visitor trust in site security and legitimacy.
Law firms can purchase SSL certificates from trusted certificate authorities like DigiCert or GeoTrust. Installation is quick and this encrypts the traffic between servers and browsers. Given the confidential data law firm sites contain, HTTPS should be a compliance priority.
Legal industry websites have special compliance obligations driven by ethics rules, privacy needs, and professional responsibility. With careful planning and design choices, law firms can create sites that meet all requirements while also attracting and informing visitors.
Staying current on standards and best practices is important in the fast-changing web domain. From technical points like security and accessibility to legal marketing rules, there are many considerations for maintaining proper compliance. With attention to detail in these areas, legal teams can confidently establish their online presence.