As an attorney here in California, you have a lot of competition for business. In order to drive business to your firm or office, you may decide to take out online or print advertisements or engage in other acts of solicitation for business. Before doing so, you may want to gain an understanding of the rules of conduct governing attorney solicitation and advertising.
Due to ethical considerations, you may only advertise and solicit legal business in certain ways, and if someone believes that your solicitations violate the rules of conduct, you could end up facing disciplinary board proceedings.
Understanding the definitions of communication and solicitation
Any contact with a former, current or potential client regarding the use of your services is considered a communication of solicitation or advertising. This includes:
- Unsolicited correspondence
- Use of a fictitious name, firm name, trade name or other professional designation
- Advertisements to the public
- Print media describing a law firm or attorney
Solicitation involves communicating with the prospect of providing your services in exchange for payment. Such solicitations may take place by telephone or in person to an individual you know to be represented by counsel in an area of law that is the subject of the communication.
Prohibited communication and solicitation
Your communications and solicitations may not involve or include any of the following:
- Omission of facts
- Deceptions or falsehoods
- Statements regarding specialties where none exist
- Confusing or misleading statements
- Coercion, intrusion or duress
- Intimidation, threats or harassment
- Guarantees or warranties regarding case outcomes
- Testimonials that act as a guarantee or warranty
In whatever form they take, your communications or solicitations must clearly and expressly indicate that they are, in fact, designed to garner business. You may need to be aware that the above list doesn't include of the actions that could violate the attorney advertising and solicitation rules proffered by the California State Bar.
Disciplinary actions based on inappropriate communication or solicitation
If you receive notification that you face disciplinary action for a violation of attorney advertising or solicitation rules, you may be shocked. More than likely, you took what you believed to be the appropriate steps in order to remain in compliance with the rules of conduct. In fact, the State Bar may end up agreeing with you, but you will first need to provide the appropriate evidence.
Every attorney has heard the old saying credited to Abraham Lincoln, "He who represents himself has a fool for a client." Your license to practice law is your livelihood. More than likely, you would not recommend that any of your clients represent themselves because the stakes are high. The same could be said when facing disciplinary board proceedings.