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Updated rules to govern lawyer advertising

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Culminating a process that began five years ago, the Indiana Supreme Court has approved the first attorney advertising rule change of its kind in about a generation.

While the 20-page order amending the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct entails several revisions to the Rule 7 series, one of the most significant aspects of the new rules is a provision that prevents attorneys from “ambulance chasing,” or directly contacting potential clients immediately following an incident that might lead to a personal injury or wrongful death action.

The rules are aimed at bringing Indiana more in line with what most of the nation has already done in following model rules adopted a decade ago by the American Bar Association, and Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard says the revisions will liberalize some of the areas where the state has been more conservative on attorney advertising.

Chief Justice Shepard and three of his colleagues announced and signed the changes at the Indiana State Bar Association annual president’s dinner Thursday night. The rule changes take effect Jan. 1, 2011.

“Taken as a whole, this is a much more modern and flexible approach to the questions our profession faces, and those issues lawyers and their clients face,” the chief justice said, moments before signing the new rules alongside outgoing ISBA president Rod Morgan of Indianapolis and incoming president Jeff Lind of Terre Haute.

This was the final Indiana rule change this fall and the court held off on signing this batch of revisions until the ISBA meeting, because that’s where the process had started back in 2005, the chief justice said.

That year, then-ISBA president Clyde Compton from Merrillville announced the review would begin on the state’s advertising rules and in early 2006 a special committee began meeting to explore potential revisions. The Board of Delegates approved proposed rules in October 2006 and forwarded those to the Indiana Supreme Court’s Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, which has reviewed and tweaked the proposal during the past four years.

Indiana has been on the conservative side of attorney advertising rules nationally, and the state hadn’t adopted changes as many other jurisdictions had after the American Bar Association offered model rules in 2000, the chief justice said.

Generally, the new rules hit on a common theme that lawyer advertising is permissible as long as it’s not false or misleading, but the court left unresolved pressing issues such as whether Super Lawyer designations should be allowed and how the state might create a review system for pre-approval. Those issues weren’t included in the proposal sent from the ISBA to the Supreme Court back in 2006.

Modernizing Section 7 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct, the court has revamped the rules to embrace e-mail and technological advances in recent decades. Specifically, the changes encompass Rules 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, and 7.5. They provide commentary for each revision to help attorneys understand the rationale and what the rules mean, and the changes include more focus on law firm trade names and the creation of a 30-day cooling off period before attorneys can directly solicit to potential clients after an accident or disaster.

On the cooling off period provision in 7.3(b)(3), the order states, “This restriction is reasonably required by the sensitized state of the potential clients, who may be either injured or grieving over the loss of a family member, and the abuses that experience has shown exist in this type of solicitation.”

The chief justice also highlighted how the changes liberalize Rule 7.5, which deals with law firm names and letterheads that have been the subject of litigation in recent years.

In a report to the House of Delegates today, the Lawyer Advertising Rules Committee pointed out that aside from these revisions that the court has been considering, future issues that warrant review might include: material submitted to blogs and social media and how those are subject to attorney advertising rules, and the question of when information submitted by or on behalf of lawyers to the Internet, blogs, and social media might be considered “public communication” within the meaning of the advertising rules. Those issues tie into what the ISBA Legal Ethics Committee is exploring, as it’s formed a subcommittee during the past year to address ethical issues regarding the use of social media.

A copy of the newly-signed rules can be found online here.
 

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