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Rule 7.4 Communication of Fields of Practice and Specialization

(a) A lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law.

(b) A lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is certified as a specialist in a field of practice unless:

(1) the certification was granted by the North Carolina State Bar;

(2) the certification was granted by an organization that is accredited by the North Carolina State Bar; or

(3) the certification was granted by an organization that is accredited by the American Bar Association under procedures and criteria endorsed by the North Carolina State Bar; and

(4) the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication.

Comment

[1] The use of the word "specialize" in any of its variant forms connotes to the public a particular expertise often subject to recognition by the state. Indeed, the North Carolina State Bar has instituted programs providing for official certification of specialists in certain areas of practice. Certification signifies that an objective entity has recognized an advanced degree of knowledge and experience in the specialty area greater than is suggested by general licensure to practice law. Certifying organizations are expected to apply standards of experience, knowledge and proficiency to insure that a lawyer's recognition as a specialist is meaningful and reliable. To avoid misrepresentation and deception, a lawyer may not communicate that the lawyer has been recognized or certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, except as provided by this rule. The rule requires that a representation of specialty may be made only if the certifying organization is the North Carolina State Bar, an organization accredited by the North Carolina State Bar, or an organization accredited by the American Bar Association under procedures approved by the North Carolina State Bar. To insure that consumers can obtain access to useful information about an organization granting certification, the name of the certifying organization or agency must be included in any communication regarding the certification.

[2] A lawyer may, however, describe his or her practice without using the term "specialize" in any manner which is truthful and not misleading. This rule specifically permits a lawyer to indicate areas of practice in communications about the lawyer's services. If a lawyer practices only in certain fields, or will not accept matters except in a specified field or fields, the lawyer is permitted to so indicate. The lawyer may, for instance, indicate a "concentration" or an "interest" or a "limitation."

[3] Recognition of expertise in patent matters is a matter of long-established policy of the Patent and Trademark Office. A lawyer admitted to engage in patent practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office may use the designation "Patent Attorney" or a substantially similar designation.

History Note:Statutory Authority G. 84-23

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

ETHICS OPINION NOTES

RPC 43. An attorney who is certified as a specialist by the Board of Legal Specialization may so indicate in an advertisement in any way that is not false, deceptive or misleading.

CASE NOTES

U.S. Const., Amend. I prohibits states from categorically prohibiting lawyers from advertising their certification as specialists by bona fide private organizations. Lesser restrictions are available to eliminate any potential confusion caused by such advertisements. Peel v. Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Comm'n,496 U.S. 91, 110 S. Ct. 2281, 110 L. Ed. 2d 83 (1990).


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