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What is Legal Advertising?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 17, 2024
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Legal advertising refers to publicity and advertising campaigns conducted by lawyers and law firms to attract clients to their firms. Because lawyers hold a trusted role within society, the advertising they put forth must not mislead their clients and must be appropriate. Within the United States, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct put forth by the American Bar Association (ABA) place certain limitations on legal advertising.

Model Rules 7.1 through 7.3 of the Model Rules of Professional conduct are the rules pertaining to legal advertising. Model Rule 7.1 stipulates that: "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 contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading."

Rule 7.2 mandates that a lawyer can't solicit business for his financial gain from perspective clients, unless those clients are family members or have a close business or personal relationship with the attorney. Furthermore, 7.2 mandates that any solicitation to clients must contain the words "advertising material" on the outside envelope or at the beginning of the audio or visual ads. This ensures that an attorney does not create a potential conflict of interest by asking existing clients to recommend new business to him. It also ensures that those who receive legal advertising understand the nature of the documents they are receiving.

Rule 7.3 suggests that, notwithstanding restrictions in Rule 7.1 and 7.2, a lawyer can advertise his services. He cannot, however, give anything of value, other than paying the cost of advertising, to recruit clients. In other words, he cannot offer a free gift or a bonus to existing clients who refer people to him. This too is designed to avoid any potential conflicts of interest and to ensure impartiality.

In addition to these rules, attorneys must be careful they do not offer legal advice in the context of a legal advertisement. If an attorney offers legal advice and a person takes that advice and is harmed financially or harmed in some other way, the attorney could potentially be found liable for malpractice. If an attorney does answer specific questions about the law or have contact with prospective clients through advertisements, he also must be careful he does not accidentally create an attorney/client relationship through giving advice. If the attorney does create an attorney/client relationship in the context of his legal advertising, this could create potential conflict of interest issues with his existing clients.

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