Just as lawyers are tasked with adopting technology to increase their productivity, so too must they use new tools to communicate and market their services to clients. Nevertheless, lawyers still must uphold each state’s lawyer advertising rules, which vary across the United States. Come July 1, 2017, Virginia attorneys will find some amendments to their state’s advertising rules in an attempt to makes them more simplified.
Since 2015, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers (APRL) has been tailoring the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct that address lawyer advertising and communication (ABA Model Rules 7.1 to 7.5) in the hope of modernizing them to fit with the times. The ABA has taken these efforts to heart.
Earlier this year, a working group consisting of all ABA standing committees of the Center for Professional Responsibility (including our very own Jayne Reardon) began making recommendations to potentially amend ABA Model Rules 7.1 to 7.5.
In fact, the group held an open forum in February at the ABA Midyear Meeting to further gauge opinions on the matter. The working group is expected to give recommendations to the ABA this June.
The Virginia State Bar, however, is waiting to see what comes of these proposed changes.
On March 14, 2017, the Virginia State Bar presented a proposal to its state Supreme Court to amend its Rules of Integration of the Virginia State Bar – specifically regarding its lawyer advertising rules.
On April 17, 2017, the Court adopted the proposal and amended Rules 7.1 – 7.5 Information About Legal Services. These changes become effective on July 1, 2017.
First and foremost, the Court will delete Rules 7.4 and 7.5. These rules previously addressed regulating lawyer and law firm names and letterhead, as well as, when and how a lawyer can communication his/her field of practice and certification(s). Instead, Rule 7.1 will address this. However, Rule 7.1 covers these aspects by simply stating that it prohibits “false and misleading” communication.
Rule 7.1 also addresses the issue of lawyer specialization.
Rule 7.1.4 reads, “A lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law. A lawyer who is a specialist in a particular field of law by experience, specialized training, or education, or is certified by a named professional entity, may communicate such specialty or certification so long as the statement is not false or misleading.”
Some pieces of Virginia’s lawyer advertising rules remain the same. Rule 7.3 still preserves the requirement to label any advertising materials with the disclaimer “ADVERTISING MATERIAL” unless the recipient is a lawyer, a family member, has a personal or prior professional relationship with the attorney, has had prior contact with the attorney, or if the lawyer’s sent materials are pursuant to a court-ordered class action notification.
Only time will tell if the ABA adopts the recommendations of the working group. Maybe they will after Virginia took the leap to amend its lawyer advertising rules. Come June, the Commission on Professionalism will fill you in.