Opinion 96-15
(February 1997)
You have requested guidance on advertisements for your firm that the Disciplinary Board advises are in violation of Pa. Rules of Professional Conduct (R.P.C.) 7.lb and 7.2i. The copy for the advertisement currently reads:
Save your home
Stop Sheriff Sale
Stop Foreclosure
Your firm name
Your firm telephone number.
You ask if the following changes would bring your advertisement into compliance with the R.P.C. To address the problem with Rule 7.lb, you propose adding a qualification to the ad, such as "you may be able to," or "call to determine if...." Your rationale for such an amendment is that Rule 7.lb deals with results that cannot be guaranteed and that this is the impression your ad as written has left with the Disciplinary Board. You further advise that you do not want to advertise bankruptcy or defense of foreclosure actions, but rather appeal to the general problems involving foreclosure, sheriff sale and creditor harassment without specifically offering bankruptcy help.
The Committee believes that the content of your advertisement violates both Rules 7.la & b. The blanket representations in the ad need to reflect that "Save your home," "Stop Sheriff Sale," and "Stop Foreclosure" are not guaranteed results but merely possibilities if your firm is hired by a prospective client. The reality of the situation is that oftentimes an attorney can't say, even after a consultation, that he or she will actually be able to save a client's home. Sometimes there is nothing an attorney can do. As such, "you may be able to," standing alone, does not remedy the violation of the Rule. Furthermore the Committee believes that "call to determine if" would still be misleading, unless an attorney in your office is willing to actually get on the phone with each caller to discuss their problem. The Committee suggests that the language in the ad be replaced with "Consult an attorney in our office to see if you may be able to Save Your Home, Stop Sheriff Sale, etc...."
To address the problem with Rule 7.2i, you intend to state specifically the three locations of your offices, two out of state, each in a separate town, and one in Philadelphia. The Committee had additional concerns regarding the issue posed by Rule 7.2i. The Rule provides that advertisements shall "disclose the geographic location, by city or town, of the office in which the lawyer or lawyers who will actually perform the services advertised principally practice law." (emphasis added) While the comment to the Rule leads one to believe that its purpose is for clients to get a local attorney, and that if the clients are to be helped by an attorney not primarily in the location where the clients are, then this must be disclosed in the ad to those prospective clients, the Rules are nevertheless authoritative, and the Comments are intended as guides to interpretation. The text of the Rule indicates that the location of the firm's principal office must be disclosed in the advertisement, and that listing all three offices, unless your law practice is evenly divided into thirds, could be in violation of Rule 7.2i. As an alternative, if each office is listed, you may have to get an attorney for each of the offices to principally practice out of that office.
Finally, since you have two out of state offices, the Committee recommends that you make sure that your advertisements for those out of state offices comply with the appropriate ethical rules that govern attorney advertising in the jurisdiction where those offices are located.
The Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee provides, upon request, advice for lawyers facing or anticipating facing ethical dilemmas. Advice is based on the consideration of the facts of the particular inquirer's situation and the Rules of Professional Conduct as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Committee's opinions are advisory only and are based upon the facts set forth. The opinions are not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. They carry only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.