Opinion 98-11
(June 1998)
You have asked the Committee for an opinion concerning a marketing project your firm is considering. You have forwarded for review three proposed posters each of which pictures one of your actual clients. The picture would state the client's name and the service you provided to that client. The individuals depicted will be paid $500 each and will be required to attend a photographic session. The caption on each picture would include the client's name, what services were provided by you (e.g. a will), or when services were provided, (e.g., after a fall in a supermarket or an auto accident), and also refers to the local labor union to which each client belongs. Each poster would provide your firm's name and phone number as well as the tag line, "The Everything Lawyers." Finally, you advise that the posters would not reference specific monetary recoveries.
In general, Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct (the "Rules") 7.1 through 7.7 govern attorney advertising, which would include the posters that you propose to make.
Rule 7.1 provides:
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:
(a) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading; . . .
(d) contains subjective claims as to the quality of legal services or a lawyer's credentials that are not capable of measurement or of verification.
While it may be that your firm handles a wide variety of cases, as many general practitioners and general practice law firms do, use of the tag line would require that you absolutely handle all types of cases including, but not limited to, admiralty, copyright and patent, state and federal worker's compensation, tax, securities, all forms of administrative matters, commercial real estate, attorney malpractice and so on. The Committee is of the opinion that in light of the fact that some legal training is required to even understand the scope of every single type of law that can be practiced, as a practical matter, verification by a client of the claim implied by use of the term, "The Everything Lawyer," is not possible and, therefore, is misleading in a manner that violates Rule 7.1.
Rules 7.2 (d), (e) and (i) provide:
(d) No advertisement or public communication shall contain an endorsement by a celebrity or public figure.
(e) An advertisement or public communication that contains a paid endorsement shall disclose that the endorser is being paid or otherwise compensated for his or her appearance or endorsement.
(i) All advertisements and written communications 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. If the office location is outside the city or town, the county in which the office is located must be disclosed.
Each of your clients is being paid $500 for use of their picture on the poster. This would constitute a paid endorsement under Rule 7.2e. In its present form, your posters do not state that they represent paid endorsements. As presented, their use would require such a disclosure be added. In addition, the posters must comply with Rule 7.2i. Use of the firm name alone, without giving the geographic location violates that part of the Rule. The Committee would also like to point out that, should these posters be used in some sort of publication for union members, and if those in the picture hold positions of importance in the union, Rule 7.2d might also be implicated, and would prohibit use of the endorsements even with the disclosures required by Rule 7.2e.
In closing, the Committee would also like to draw your attention to Rule 7.2b which requires:
(b) A copy or recording of an advertisement or written communication shall be kept for two years after is last dissemination along with a record of when and where it was used. This record shall include the name of at least one lawyer responsible for its content.
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.