2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 14

January 20, 2006

Identifying Information in URL for Law Firm Website

 

Opinion rules that the URL for a law firm website does not have to include words that identify the site as belonging to a law firm provided the URL is not otherwise misleading.

 

Inquiry:

 

2005 FEO 8 ruled that the URL for a law firm website is a trade name that must be registered with the State Bar, in compliance with Rule 7.5(a), and may not be misleading.

 

Lawyers have applied to the State Bar to register the following URLs for their law firm websites: "Asbestos-Mesothelioma.com" "DrugInjury.com" and "NCworkinjury. com". None of the URLs contain language sufficient to indicate to a user that the URL is for the website of a law firm. May a law firm use a URL that does not include words or language sufficient to identify it as the address of a website of a law firm?

 

Opinion:

 

Yes, provided the URL is not otherwise false or misleading and the homepage of the website clearly and unambiguously identifies the site as belonging to a lawyer or a law firm.

 

Rule 7.1 and Rule 7.5(a) prohibit lawyers and law firms from using trade names that are misleading. Nevertheless, the Rules of Professional Conduct are rules of reason and should be interpreted with reference to the purposes of legal representation. Rule 0.2, Scope, cmt. [1]. None of the URLs listed in the inquiry make false promises or misrepresentations about a lawyer or a lawyer's services. Although a person who is using the internet to research a medical condition, such as mesothelioma, or injuries caused by prescription medications or on the job, may be given one of these website addresses in a response to an internet browser search, if the user is not interested in legal advice relative to the medical condition or the injury, the user does not have to click on the URL or, having done so, may exit the website as soon as he or she determines that it does not contain the information being sought. At worst, the URLs may cause the user of the internet an extra click of the mouse and, at best, they may provide a user with helpful information about legal rights. Therefore, as long as a URL of a law firm is not otherwise misleading or false and the homepage of the website identifies the sponsoring law firm or lawyer, the URL does not have to contain language specifically identifying the website as one belonging to a law firm.

 


THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE BAR
217 E. Edenton Street • PO Box 25908 • Raleigh, NC 27611-5908 • 919.828.4620
Copyright North Carolina State Bar. All rights reserved.