Editor's Note: This opinion was originally published as RPC 161 (Revised).
Television Commercials for Legal Services
Opinion rules that a television commercial for legal services which fails to mention that bankruptcy is the debt relief described in the commercial and which describes results obtained for others is misleading.
Attorney A advertises on television. The commercial does not mention bankruptcy but the announcer on the commercial says "you can get financial relief" and "you can pay your creditors as little as $25 per week pursuant to a federal payroll deduction plan."During the commercial, it is stated that relief is "under 11 U.S. Code Section 109." At the end of the commercial, no attorney's name is mentioned. Instead viewers are directed to call a telephone number which has additional recorded information about financial relief from debts. Viewers who call this telephone number listen to a 12-minute tape recording during which bankruptcy filing options, including bill consolidation under Chapter 13, are discussed. Callers are advised that they have reached "the 24-hour information hotline for debt reorganization." The 12-minute tape does not explain the circumstances under which creditors can be paid "as little as $25 per week" but it does state that the caller can combine "every bill...into one low monthly payment."Does this advertisement fall within the guidelines set forth in the Rules of Professional Conduct?
No. Rule 2.2(a) allows a lawyer to advertise his services on television provided the commercials comply with Rule 2.1. Rule 2.1 prohibits false and misleading communications about a lawyer's services. A communication is false or misleading if it omits a fact necessary to make the statement, as a whole, not materially misleading. Rule 2.1(a). A communication is also false or misleading if it is likely to create an unjustified expectation about the results the lawyer can achieve. Rule 2.1(b).
Under the circumstances described in this inquiry, the failure of the television commercial to mention bankruptcy as the form of relief being described is an omission which makes the commercial materially misleading. Moreover, the statement in the commercial that the viewer "can pay creditors as little as $25 per week" is inherently misleading and creates an unjustified expectation about the results the lawyer can achieve which is not cured by the additional information in the 12-minute tape.
Rule 2.4(c) requires that the words, "This is an advertisement for legal services" be included at the beginning and ending of any "recorded communication from a lawyer soliciting professional employment from a prospective client known to be in need of legal services in a particular matter and with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship." Viewers who call the telephone number for additional information must be presumed to be in need of legal services. Therefore, the recorded messages must include the statement described in Rule 2.4(c). See RPC 115.