ILNews

Bell & Gaerte: 3 things to know about legal advertising

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Bell Gaerte 3 thingsThe Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct define the term “advertising” broadly. Ind. Professional Conduct Rule 7.2(a) defines “advertising” as “any manner of communication partly or entirely intended or expected to promote the purchase or use of professional services.” (Emphasis added) Therefore, these rules cover communications on your website, blog and even social media. Regardless of whether or not you advertise on billboards, you likely need to pay attention to the advertising rules. Here are three things to know about legal advertising.

1. The truth will not always set you free.

Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1 states that: “A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.” This rule also states that a communication may be misleading if it “omits a fact” which makes the communication a material misrepresentation. Therefore, the fact that every representation included in a communication can be verified is not enough to satisfy the requirements of Rule 7.1. If you truthfully state in an advertisement that you have “never lost a jury trial,” that statement will be considered misleading if you have never actually tried a jury trial. Simply being literally truthful is not sufficient.

An illustration of a “misleading” advertisement can be seen via In the Matter of Gerling, 777 N.E.2d 1097 (Ind. 2002). In that case, a law firm’s billboard advertisement stated “Expect more from a Gerling attorney.” All of the individuals on the billboard were employees of the firm, but one was not a lawyer. Gerling argued that the material was not misleading because there was no claim that everyone pictured was an attorney. However, the court found that the advertisement was still misleading because not everyone on the billboard was an attorney – from whom you could “expect more.” Id. at 1097-98.

2. Advertise your “commitment” to obtaining results.

The Comment to Rule 7.1 prohibits “any reference to results obtained that may reasonably create an expectation of similar results in future matters.” The Supreme Court of Indiana disciplined an attorney who stated in his advertisement that he could “obtain the best possible settlement” because it likely created unjustified expectations by prospective clients. Matter of Wamsley, 725 N.E.2d 75-77 (Ind. 2000). However, the Supreme Court determined that the “commitment to obtaining the best possible settlement” was not impermissible. Matter of Benke and Crawford, 892 N.E.2d 1237, 1239 (Ind. 2008). In doing so, the court explicitly distinguished an advertisement’s promise to obtain a result from the promise to be committed to the same. In your marketing materials, emphasize your “commitment to results” and de-emphasize or eliminate your reference to the actual results themselves.

3. Don’t trust your final marketing product to a non-lawyer.

Many attorneys have faced disciplinary issues because they delegated the task of producing an advertisement to an advertising agency or a non-lawyer staff member in his or her firm. Guideline 9.1 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct states that “a non-lawyer assistant shall perform services only under the direct supervision of a lawyer.” Rule 5.3 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct further discusses responsibilities regarding non-lawyer assistants. On a number of occasions, the Supreme Court of Indiana has found a lawyer’s conduct in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct for the failure to supervise a non-lawyer.

For example, the court found that an attorney violated Rule 9.1 when he allowed his assistant to place an advertisement containing objectionable content. In re Cartmel, 676 N.E.2d 1047 (Ind. 1997). The advertisement was published multiple times before the attorney saw it, at which point he “promptly cancelled it.” Id. at 1049. However, the cancellation was too late for disciplinary purposes. The Supreme Court of Indiana emphasized that the attorney was ultimately responsible for any advertising material created on his behalf and if the material was objectionable he was ultimately responsible. The main lesson here is that all final products produced for an advertisement must be reviewed by a lawyer to ensure that the advertisement complies with the Rules of Professional Conduct.•

__________

James J. Bell and K. Michael Gaerte are attorneys with Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP. They assist lawyers and judges with professional liability and legal ethics issues. They also practice in criminal defense and are regular speakers on criminal defense and ethics topics. They can be reached via email at jbell@bgdlegal.com or mgaerte@bgdlegal.com. The opinions expressed are those of the authors.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

ADVERTISEMENT