NOTE: This post is now out of date. The Law Society of British Columbia has refreshed its website, the Professional Conduct Handbook is now the Code of Professional Conduct for British Columbia (the BC Code), and there have been further changes to BC’s legal marketing rules, including the rescinding of a number of rules. You will find the current rules in Chapter 4 – Marketing of Legal Services.
With the relaunch of the Law Society of British Columbia’s website, I wanted to take this opportunity to review Rule 4 of Chapter 14 of the Professional Conduct Handbook: Marketing of Legal Services. These rules have become increasingly permissive, so much so that many lawyers now forget the rules exist.
Let’s have a look at where things stand. The core rule (#4) reads as follows:
4. Any marketing activity undertaken or authorized by a lawyer must not be:
(d) reasonably capable of misleading the recipient or intended recipient, or
(e) contrary to the best interests of the public.
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Violating the rule leaves the lawyer open to a finding of professional misconduct. Rule 5 is included to provide some general examples of how a lawyer might violate Rule 4.
While these rules seem obvious enough, the annotations are where the real lessons can be learned. Take a shot at the following quiz and decide if you think each violates the rule:
i) Offering free champagne on conveyancing referrals and a chance to win the accompaniment of two beautiful hostesses to assist at an open house? Answer.
ii) A sole practitioner with a firm by the name of Yossarian and Company? Answer.
iii) A boutique mining firm practicing under the name of “BC Mining Law” with no other distinguishing characteristics? Answer.
iv) A sole practitioner practicing under the name X and Associates? Answer.
v) A firm marketing itself as “The Best Firm for Asia-Pacific Deals”? Answer.
vi) A sole practitioner practicing under the name Davis Lawyers in the City of Vancouver? Answer.
Dos and Don’ts
The particular details are flushed out in the remainder of the chapter. I’ll start with a few of the enumerated prohibitions:
- No designating (on letterhead or other marketing materials) persons not entitled to practice law in BC (Rule 10);
- No using the word “specialist”(Rule 18);
- No using the word “expert” (annotations);
- No referring to a current judge or master as being formerly of your firm (Rule 7.2); and
- No referring to the prior title or alluding to the former status of a lawyer who has previously served as judge or master (Law Society Rule 2-54(4)).
So what can you do? Well, you can:
- Use the word “expertise” in association with your preferred practice areas (so long as the it does not suggest a special status or accreditation);
- Use client testimonials so long as they are true and verifiable;
- Describe your firm as a “Multidisciplinary Law Practice” so long as you are, in fact, a MDP; and
- Commission a tasteful and professional zeppelin bearing your firm’s logo. The sky is the limit.
The profession is now empowered with sufficient marketing scope that they are left with a far greater challenge than the rules themselves… how to market? Life was certainly easier when a freshly painted shingle, a firm handshake, or a large phone book ad was sufficient for the task. Now, firms are scrambling to adjust to a world where clients are drawn out through search engine marketing, webinars and social media campaigns. Vancouver business lawyers, in particular, are flooded with choices. It’s not progress, just change. Fortunately, a firm handshake never goes out of style.