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Legal advertising is advertising by lawyers (attorneys at law) and law firms. Legal marketing is a broader term referring to advertising and other practices, such as client relations, blogging, cross-selling, public relations and maintaining contact with alumni.
In Australia, legal advertising is regulated by the Legal Services Commission of the State they practice in. Generally, Australian lawyers must ensure their advertising isn't false, misleading or deceptive, offensive or prohibited by law.
Legal marketing has been permitted in England and Wales since 1986, when the Law Society of England and Wales first permitted lawyers to advertise. The Financial Services Authority now licences helplines and claims management agencies - except trade unions - which typically advertise and refer claims to lawyers.
From the 1990s, other jurisdictions in continental Europe progressively opened way for advertising. Advocates in Spain and France are among those able to freely use instruments of communication.
In Germany, prior to 1990, it was considered professionally improper to market your law firm. Because of the opinion that the law was above advertisement, the use of a logo anywhere was forbidden, and something as innocuous as a telephone book listing was subject to scrutiny. It was forbidden to give any sort of detailed information on your firm’s practice areas or specializations anywhere, even in yellow page listings. Only the name of the firm, physical address, and telephone numbers were allowed. Law firms began to question the fairness of this prohibition in their profession.
In the 1990/1991 annual issue of the yellow pages for Nürnberg-Fürth, published by Deutsche Bundespost Telekom, the listing Dr Kreuzer & Coll, Nürnberg, Germany, broke with the status quo. The listing included not only the address, telephone, fax and telex numbers for the firm, but also the names of the founder of the firm, Dr. Günther Kreuzer, his partner Felix Müller, and the names of two of their attorneys as well as all of their specializations or areas of focus; Fachanwalt für Sozialrecht (Specialist for Civil Law), Fachanwalt für Arbeitsrecht (Specialist for Employment Law), Rechtsanwältin für Verkehrssachen (Lawyer for Traffic Law) and Rechtsanwalt für Familiensachen (Lawyer for Family Law). As soon as that edition was published, there was an objection filed by a fellow member of the bar. They complained that Dr Kreuzer & Coll had broken the code of professionalism and asked for a disciplinary hearing, stating a severe breach of professional etiquette.
The disciplinary court, an appellant court and ultimately, the Federal Court of Justice of Germany's Senate for Law Matters returned a decision in favor of the defendants and ruled that no breach of professional etiquette had transpired as the information that was posted was true and that there was no reason that firms should not be able to give such detailed information in their listings.
In India, an advocate shall not solicit work or advertise, except through a medium maintained by the Bar Council of India, either directly or indirectly, whether by circulars, advertisements, touts, personal communications, interviews not warranted by personal relations, furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments or producing his/her photographs to be published in connection with cases in which they have been engaged or concerned. Their sign-board or name-plate should be of a reasonable size. The sign-board or name-plate or stationery should not indicate that they are or have been a president or member of a bar council or of any association or that they have been associated with any person or organization or with any particular cause or matter or that they specialize in any particular type of work or that they had been a judge or an advocate general. Soliciting work or advertise as used in this clause of the code would not mean and include setting up of a web-site by an advocate or a law firm giving only basic information about the names and number of lawyers in a law firm, the contact details and areas of practice. This similarly applies to lawyers’ brochures and law directories.
Under the amended rule, advocates can mention in their chosen websites, their names, telephone numbers, e-mail ID, professional qualification and areas of specialization.
In Israel, legal marketing managers in big law firms were active since 2006. Their activity expanded due to the late-2000s recession which affected law firms, and due to the large number of lawyers per capita in Israel.
In Italy, the Bersani Decree of July 2, converted into law in January 2007 gives lawyers the right to advertise.
Main article: Legal advertising in the United States
Lawyer advertising in the United States is legal, although subject to ethical rules promulgated by state bar associations. Commonly encountered forms of lawyer advertising include television and radio commercials, print advertisements, billboards, direct mail marketing, law firm websites, and participation in telephone directories, commercial directories and referral services, and through online advertising and social media.
In 1908, the American Bar Association ("ABA") established its first ethics code, known as the Canons of Professional Ethics, which condemned all advertisement and solicitation by lawyers. Due to the progression of the legal profession and the desire to update the Canons of Professional Ethics, the ABA created the Model Code of Professional Responsibility ("Model Code") in 1969. The Model Code was an effort by the ABA to create practical rules that went "beyond the pretty details of form and manners" and addressed "the chained relationship of the lawyer to his clients, to his professional brethren and to the public."
The first major case law decision on legal advertising is the Supreme Court ruling in Bates v. Arizona State Bar 433 U.S. 350 (1977), in which the United States Supreme Court, held that lawyer advertising is partially protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court rejected the argument by the Arizona Bar that attorney advertising was "inherently misleading" and "tarnish the dignified public image of the profession." The Court found "the postulated connection between advertising and the erosion of true professionalism to be severely strained," and noted that "lack of legal advertising could be viewed as the profession's failure to 'reach out and serve the community.'"
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) responded to the Supreme Court of Alabama's June 26, 2002 invitation to comment on the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct entitled Information about Legal Services. In this response, the FTC "encourages competition in the licensed professions, including the legal profession, to the maximum extent compatible with other state and federal goals." Additionally, on May 26, 2006, the FTC commented on the State Bar of Texas Professional Ethics Committee's consideration on whether or not it is ethical for a Texas attorney to participate in an online lawyer referral services. The FTC determined that "online legal matching services are a valuable option for Texans: they are likely to reduce the consumers' cost for finding legal representation and have the potential to increase competition among attorneys."
Certain marketing practices are considered illegal, and many others may be considered violations of legal ethics. Shock advertising, for example, would be considered unethical; directly soliciting clients (known as barratry, or "ambulance chasing") is illegal.
The New York and Florida court systems proposed several restrictions on advertising in 2006 and 2007. The N.Y. proposals generated controversy. In 2005, New York State Bar Association President Vincent Buzard appointed a Task Force on Lawyer Advertising, chaired by Bernice K. Leber, to make proposals for consideration by NYSBA and the New York courts.
The new rules for New York were effective on February 1, 2007. For the first time, the New York Legal system defined legal advertising, as:
"any public or private communication made on or behalf of a lawyer or law firm about that lawyer or law firm's services, the primary purpose of which is for the retention of the lawyer or law firm." The new rule specifically exempts communications to existing clients or other lawyers. Publicity is, for the first time, also included as a synonym of advertising. The newly revised rules now allow advertising about a lawyer's publications and "bona fide professional ratings". There are certain special rules for email advertising, prohibiting spam.
The 2007 rules stated that advertising must not include a number of prohibited marketing devices:
The new New York rules were challenged, and Judge Frederick J. Scullin of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York struck down five of the rules as unconstitutional infringement of the First Amendment. The endorsement, portrayals, "Irrelevant characteristics", and nicknames provisions were stricken; however, the domain name limitations, 30-day solicitation, and communications rules were upheld. State Bar President Kathryn Madigan promised to work with the court system to develop new rules that will survive constitutional strict scrutiny.