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Information About Legal Services

Rule 7.1 Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services

(a) A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. A communication is false or misleading if it:


(1) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;

(2) is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or

(3) compares the lawyer's services with other lawyers' services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.


(b) A communication by a lawyer that contains a dramatization depicting a fictional situation is misleading unless it complies with paragraph (a) above and contains a conspicuous written or oral statement, at the beginning and the end of the communication, explaining that the communication contains a dramatization and does not depict actual events or real persons.

Comment

[1] This Rule governs all communications about a lawyer's services, including advertising permitted by Rule 7.2. Whatever means are used to make known a lawyer's services, statements about them must be truthful.

[2] Truthful statements that are misleading are also prohibited by this Rule. A truthful statement is misleading if it omits a fact necessary to make the lawyer's communication considered as a whole not materially misleading. A truthful statement is also misleading if there is a substantial likelihood that it will lead a reasonable person to formulate a specific conclusion about the lawyer or the lawyer's services for which there is no reasonable factual foundation.

[3] An advertisement that truthfully reports a lawyer's achievements on behalf of clients or former clients may be misleading if presented so as to lead a reasonable person to form an unjustified expectation that the same results could be obtained for other clients in similar matters without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances of each client's case. Similarly, an unsubstantiated comparison of the lawyer's services or fees with the services or fees of other lawyers may be misleading if presented with such specificity as would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the comparison can be substantiated. The inclusion of an appropriate disclaimer or qualifying language may preclude a finding that a statement is likely to create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead a prospective client.

[4] See also Rule 8.4(e) for the prohibition against stating or implying an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

History Note: Statutory Authority G. 84-23

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

ETHICS OPINION NOTES

CPR 253. A paralegal employed by a law firm may have a business card with the firm's identification.

CPR 262. A law firm's office manager may have a business card with the firm's identification.

RPC 5. An attorney holding a Juris Doctor degree may not on that basis refer to himself or herself as a "Doctor."

RPC 135. An attorney may not participate in a private lawyer referral service which advertises that its participants are "the best."

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 217. A local or remote call forwarding telephone number may not be included in an advertisement for legal services disseminated in a community where the law firm has neither an office nor a lawyer present in the community unless an explanation is included in the advertisement.

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.

97 Formal Ethics Opinion 6. The omission of the lawyer's address from a targeted direct mail letter is a material misrepresentation.

99 Formal Ethics Opinion 7. Opinion rules that a law firm may not state in a direct mail letter that lawyers in the firm have obtained jury verdicts of specified amounts because the statement may create unjustified expectations about the results the lawyers can achieve.

2000 Formal Ethics Opinion 1. Opinion rules that, in the absence of a full explanation, advertising a lawyer's or a law firm's record in obtaining favorable verdicts is misleading and prohibited.

2000 Formal Ethics Opinion 3. Opinion rules that a lawyer may respond to an inquiry posted on a web page message board provided there are certain disclosures.

2000 Formal Ethics Opinion 6. Opinion rules that a television advertisement for legal services that implies that an insurance company will settle a claim more quickly because the advertised lawyer represents the claimant is misleading.

2000 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion explores the situations in which a lawyer who is also a CPA my provide legal services and accounting services from the same office.

2004 Formal Ethics Opinion 7. Opinion rules that it is misleading to advertise the number of years of experience of the lawyers with a firm without indicating that it is the combined legal experience of all of the lawyers with the firm.


2004 Formal Ethics Opinion 8. Opinion rules that unless the lawyer invariably makes the repayment of costs advanced contingent upon the outcome of each matter, an advertisement for legal services that states that there is no fee unless there is a recovery must also state that costs advanced must be repaid at the conclusion of the matter.


2004 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion rules that a trade name for a law firm that implies an affiliation with a financial planning company is misleading and prohibited.

2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a law firm that employs a nonlawyer to represent Social Security claimants must so disclose in any advertising for this service and to prospective clients.


2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 14. 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.

2009 Formal Ethics Opinion 16. A law firm website may include a case summary section showcasing successful verdicts and settlements if the section contains accurate information accompanied by an appropriate disclaimer. Any reference on the website to membership in an organization with a self-laudatory name must comply with the requirements of 2003 Formal Ethics Opinion 3.


2010 Formal Ethics Opinion 4. A lawyer may be included in a barter exchange trading network list or directory of members and other advertisements to members of the barter exchange so long as the list, directory, or advertisement does not include information that is false or misleading.


2010 Formal Ethics Opinion 6. A lawyer may place an advertisement for employment in practice areas in which the lawyer does not have experience if the lawyer intends to obtain competence through study or by associating a lawyer who is competent in those areas of law. If, at the time the advertisement is placed, it is likely the lawyer will associate more experienced lawyers to handle the resulting cases, that fact must be disclosed to the public in the advertisement.


2010 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. A dramatization disclaimer is not required when using a stock photograph in an advertisement so long as, in the context of the advertisement, the stock photograph is not materially misleading.


2010 Formal Ethics Opinion 10. A law firm may charge a client for the expenses associated with an out-of-office consultation so long as advertisements referencing the service indicate that the client will be charged for the service and the client consents to the charge prior to the visit.


2010 Formal Ethics Opinion 11. A lawyer may list membership in an organization with a self-laudatory name on his letterhead if a disclaimer of similar results and information about the criteria for membership also appears on the letterhead.

2011 Formal Ethics Opinion 9 . A lawyer may not allow a person who is not employed by or affiliated with the lawyer’s firm to use firm letterhead.


2011 Formal Ethics Opinion 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).



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