Information About Legal Services

Rule 7.2 Advertising

(a) Subject to the requirements of Rules 7.1 and 7.3, a lawyer may advertise services through written, recorded or electronic communication, including public media.

(b) A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer's services except that a lawyer may

 

(1) pay the reasonable costs of advertisements or communications permitted by this Rule;

(2) pay the usual charges of a not-for-profit lawyer referral service that complies with Rule 7.2(d), or a prepaid or group legal services plan that complies with Rule 7.3(d); and

(3) pay for a law practice in accordance with Rule 1.17.

 

(c) Any communication made pursuant to this rule, other than that of a lawyer referral service as described in paragraph (d), shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.

(d) A lawyer may participate in a lawyer referral service subject to the following conditions:

 

(1) the lawyer is professionally responsible for its operation including the use of a false, deceptive, or misleading name by the referral service;

 

(2) the referral service is not operated for a profit;

(3) the lawyer may pay to the lawyer referral service only a reasonable sum which represents a proportionate share of the referral service's administrative and advertising costs;

(4) the lawyer does not directly or indirectly receive anything of value other than legal fees earned from representation of clients referred by the service;

(5) employees of the referral service do not initiate contact with prospective clients and do not engage in live telephone or in-person solicitation of clients;

(6) the referral service does not collect any sums from clients or potential clients for use of the service; and

(7) all advertisements by the lawyer referral service shall:

 

(A) state that a list of all participating lawyers will be mailed free of charge to members of the public upon request and state where such information may be obtained; and

 

(B) explain the method by which the needs of the prospective client are matched with the qualifications of the recommended lawyer.

 

Comment

[1] To assist the public in obtaining legal services, lawyers are permitted to make known their services not only through reputation but also through organized information campaigns in the form of advertising. Advertising involves an active quest for clients, contrary to the tradition that a lawyer should not seek clientele. However, the public's need to know about legal services can be fulfilled in part through advertising. This need is particularly acute in the case of persons of moderate means who have not made extensive use of legal services. The interest in expanding public information about legal services ought to prevail over considerations of tradition. Nevertheless, advertising by lawyers may entail the risk of practices that are misleading or overreaching.

[2] This Rule permits public dissemination of information concerning a lawyer's name or firm name, address and telephone number; the kinds of services the lawyer will undertake; the basis on which the lawyer's fees are determined, including prices for specific services and payment and credit arrangements; a lawyer's foreign language ability; names of references and, with their consent, names of clients regularly represented; and other information that might invite the attention of those seeking legal assistance.

[3] Questions of effectiveness and taste in advertising are matters of speculation and subjective judgment. Television is now one of the most powerful media for getting information to the public, particularly persons of low and moderate income; prohibiting television advertising, therefore, would impede the flow of information about legal services to many sectors of the public. Limiting the information that may be advertised has a similar effect and assumes that the bar can accurately forecast the kind of information that the public would regard as relevant. But see Rule 7.1(b) for the disclaimer required in any advertisement that contains a dramatization. Electronic media, such as the Internet, can be an important source of information about legal services, and lawful communication by electronic mail is permitted by this Rule. But see Rule 7.3(a) for the prohibition against the solicitation of a prospective client through a real-time electronic exchange that is not initiated by the prospective client.

[4] Neither this Rule nor Rule 7.3 prohibits communications authorized by law, such as notice to members of a class in class action litigation.

Paying Others to Recommend a Lawyer

[5] Lawyers are not permitted to pay others for channeling professional work. Paragraph (b)(1), however, allows a lawyer to pay for advertising and communications permitted by this Rule, including the costs of print directory listings, on-line directory listings, newspaper ads, television and radio airtime, domain-name registrations, sponsorship fees, banner ads, and group advertising. A lawyer may compensate employees, agents and vendors who are engaged to provide marketing or client-development services, such as publicists, public-relations personnel, business-development staff and website designers. See Rule 5.3 for the duties of lawyers and law firms with respect to the conduct of nonlawyers who prepare marketing materials for them.

[6] A lawyer may pay the usual charges of a prepaid or group legal services plan or a not-for-profit lawyer referral service. A legal services plan is defined in Rule 7.3(d). Such a plan assists prospective clients to secure legal representation. A lawyer referral service, on the other hand, is any organization that holds itself out to the public as a lawyer referral service. Such referral services are understood by laypersons to be consumer-oriented organizations that provide unbiased referrals to lawyers with appropriate experience in the subject matter of the representation and afford other client protections, such as complaint procedures or malpractice insurance requirements. Consequently, this Rule only permits a lawyer to pay the usual charges of a not-for-profit lawyer referral service.

[7] A lawyer who accepts assignments or referrals from a prepaid or group legal service plan or referrals from a lawyer referral service must act reasonably to assure that the activities of the plan or service are compatible with the lawyer's professional obligations. See Rule 5.3. Any lawyer who participates in a legal services plan or lawyer referral service is professionally responsible for the operation of the service in accordance with these rules regardless of the lawyer's knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of the activities of the service. Legal service plans and lawyer referral services may communicate with prospective clients, but such communication must be in conformity with these Rules. Thus, advertising must not be false or misleading, as would be the case if the communications of a group advertising program or a group legal services plan would mislead prospective clients to think that it was a lawyer referral service sponsored by a state agency or bar association. The term "referral" implies that some attempt is made to match the needs of the prospective client with the qualifications of the recommended lawyer. To avoid misrepresentation, paragraph (d)(7)(B) requires that every advertisement for the service must include an explanation of the method by which a prospective client is matched with the lawyer to whom he or she is referred. In addition, the lawyer may not allow in-person, telephonic, or real-time contacts that would violate Rule 7.3.

History Note: Statutory Authority G. 84-23

Adopted July 24, 1997; Amended March 1, 2003.

ETHICS OPINION NOTES

CPR 14. A lawyer may not perform title examinations and legal work for a developer for free or for a substantially reduced fee as consideration for the developer's promise to recommend the lawyer to prospective purchasers and their lenders.

CPR 39. A lawyer may participate in a call-in radio program and answer legal questions.

CPR 40. It is unethical for lawyers to offer free legal services to employees of a savings and loan association to get title work.

CPR 58. An attorney may write and publish pamphlets of a legal nature and offer them for sale to the public.

CPR 116. An attorney may write legal articles for publication in business journals and be identified.

CPR 336. An attorney may advertise that he or she is also in the securities business and the insurance business.

CPR 359. Attorneys may share the cost of advertising by means of a private lawyer referral service under certain conditions.

RPC 10. Attorney may affiliate with a private lawyer referral service administered by a for-profit business corporation so long as the corporation does not profit from the referrals. ( But see Rule 7.2(d)(2).)

RPC 94. A private lawyer referral service must have more than one participating lawyer and all participants must share in the cost of operating the referral service. ( But see Rule 7.2 (d)(2).)

RPC 115. A lawyer may sponsor truthful legal information which is provided by telephone to members of the public.

RPC 135. An attorney may not participate in a private lawyer referral service unless all advertisements of the service state that a list of all participating lawyers will be mailed free of charge to members of the public upon request and indicate that the service is not operated or endorsed by any public agency or any disinterested organization. ( But see Rule 7.2(d)(2).)

RPC 161. A television commercial for legal services which fails to mention that bankruptcy is the debt relief described in the commercial and describes results obtained for others is misleading.

RPC 239. A lawyer may display truthful information about the lawyer's legal services on a World Wide Web site accessed via the Internet.

RPC 241. A lawyer may participate in a directory of lawyers on the Internet if the information about the lawyer in the directory is truthful.

2004 FEO 1 - Opinion rules that a lawyer may participate in an on-line service that is similar to both a lawyer referral service and a legal directory provided there is no fee sharing with the service and all communications about the lawyer and the service are truthful.

 

2004 FEO 2. Opinion rules that an attorney may not offer promotional merchandise in a targeted direct mail solicitation letter as an inducement to call the attorney’s office.

2005 FEO 10. Opinion addresses ethical concerns raised by an internet-based or virtual law practice and the provision of unbundled legal services.

 

2010 FEO 4. A barter exchange that provides a complete, impartial list of all participating lawyers, does not purport to recommend or select a lawyer for an exchange member seeking legal services, and does not restrict the number of participating lawyers is not a lawyer referral service.

 

2011 FEO 10. A lawyer may advertise on a website that offers daily discounts to consumers where the website company’s compensation is a percentage of the amount paid to the lawyer if certain disclosures are made and certain conditions are satisfied.

CASE NOTES

First Amendment challenge to N.C. State Bar ethics opinion 2000 FEO 6 ruling that a television advertisement called "Strategy Session" violated Rule 7.1. The court rejected the First Amendment challenge and found the advertisement to be inherently misleading. The court reasoned that the advertisement's portrayal of the insurance industry constituted a material misrepresentation of fact and omitted facts necessary to make the advertisement, when considered as a whole, not materially misleading. The ad also created an unjustified expectation that the lawyers advertised could obtain settlements without regard to the facts underlying a claim based solely on their reputation and insurance companies' fear or reluctance to litigate against them. Farrin et al. v. Thigpen et al., 173 F. Supp. 2d 427 (M.D.N.C. 2001).

 

 


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.