All 50 states govern lawyer advertising through their Rules of Professional Conduct, often known as “ethics rules.” The rules in each state are unique to that state. Therefore, it is imperative that lawyers familiarize themselves with the rules of the states that govern their conduct.

Rule 4-7.1 - Communication Concerning a Lawyer’s Services

A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.

A communication is false if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law.

A communication is misleading if it:

(a) omits a fact as a result of which the statement considered as a whole is materially misleading;

(b) is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve;

(c) proclaims results obtained on behalf of clients, such as the amount of a damage award or the lawyer’s record in obtaining favorable verdicts or settlements, without stating that past results afford no guarantee of future results and that every case is different and must be judged on its own merits;

(d) states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law;

(e) compares the quality of a lawyer’s or a law firm’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated;

(f) advertises for a specific type of case concerning which the lawyer has neither experience nor competence;

(g) indicates an area of practice in which the lawyer routinely refers matters to other lawyers, without conspicuous identification of such fact;

(h) contains any paid testimonial about or endorsement of the lawyer, without conspicuous identification of the fact that payment has been made for the testimonial or endorsement;

(i) contains any simulated portrayal of a lawyer, client, victim, scene, or event without conspicuous identification of the fact that it is a simulation;

(j) provides an office address for an office staffed only part-time or by appointment only, without conspicuous identification of such fact; or

(k) states that legal services are available on a contingent or no-recovery-no-fee basis without stating conspicuously that the client may be responsible for costs or expenses, if that is the case.

The presumptions that statements are misleading contained in Rule 4-7.1(c), (g), (h), and (k) shall not apply to a not-for-profit organization funded in whole or in part by the Legal Services Corporation established by 42 U.S.C section 2996(b) or to pro bono services provided free of charge by a not-for-profit organization, a court-annexed program, a bar association, or an accredited law school.

(Adopted Aug. 7, 1985, eff. Jan. 1, 1986. Amended Sept. 19, 2005, eff. Jan. 1, 2006; March 1, 2007; Nov. 25, 2009, eff. July 1, 2010.)

Comment

[1] This Rule 4-7.1 governs all communications about a lawyer’s services, including advertising permitted by Rule 4-7.2. Whatever means are used to make known a lawyer’s services, statements about them should be truthful.

Supplemental Missouri Comment

[1] This Rule 4-7.1 is not intended to alter the definition of “competence” as defined in Rule 4-1.1.

[2] Rule 4-7.1 prohibits false or misleading communications. False and misleading statements have never enjoyed the limited first amendment protection afforded to other forms of commercial speech by Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), and its progeny.

[3] Rule 4-7.1(c) allows a verifiable statement regarding the number of cases tried or handled in a particular area without the disclaimer language of Rule 4-7.1(c).

[4] Rule 4-7.1(h) addresses the practice of using testimonials and endorsements by entertainers, sports figures, or other well-known persons. Rule 4-7.1 requires the disclosure of the fact that a payment was made to obtain the testimony or endorsement, thereby giving the public an opportunity to evaluate the credibility of the statement.

[5] Rule 4-7.1(i) deals with simulations primarily utilized in the electronic media. Rule 4-7.1(i) permits simulations of a lawyer, client, victim, scene, or event if the advertising indicates that it is a simulation that is being portrayed. The simulation must contain a disclosure that it is a simulation in order to counteract any suggestion that the representation is a portrayal of actual fact. Rule 4-7.1(i) also permits a communication to contain a picture or other representation of the lawyer or lawyers providing the legal services that are the subject of the advertisement.

[6] “Price” advertising can provide a valuable service to consumers of legal services and is not discouraged by the Rule 4. However, characterization of rates or fees chargeable by the lawyer or law firm such as “cut-rate,” “lowest,” “giveaway,” “below cost,” “discount,” or “special” is misleading unless the comparison can be factually sustained.

[7] A communication is false or misleading if it states or implies that the lawyer is able to influence improperly or upon irrelevant grounds any tribunal, legislative body, or public official.

[8] A communication that portrays a former judge in a robe or in the courtroom accompanied by a reference to the lawyer as “judge” may be misleading as it may create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve.

Rule 4-7.2 - Advertising

(a) Subject to the requirements of Rule 4-7.1, a lawyer may advertise services through public media, such as a telephone directory, legal directory, newspaper or other periodical, outdoor advertising, radio, or television, or through direct mail advertising distributed generally to persons not known to need legal services of the kind provided by the lawyer in a particular matter.

(b) A copy or recording of an advertisement or written communication shall be kept for two years after its last dissemination along with a record of when and where it was used. The record shall include the name of at least one lawyer responsible for its content unless the advertisement or written communication itself contains the name of at least one lawyer responsible for its content.

(c) A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services, except that:

(1) a lawyer may pay the reasonable cost of advertising or written communication permitted by this Rule 4-7.2;

(2) a lawyer may pay the reasonable cost of advertising, written communication, or other notification required in connection with the sale of a law practice as permitted by Rule 4-1.17; and

(3) a lawyer may pay the usual charges of a qualified lawyer referral service registered under Rule 4-9.1 or other not-for-profit legal services organization.

(d) A lawyer may not, directly or indirectly, pay all or a part of the cost of an advertisement in the public media unless such advertisement discloses the name and address of the financing lawyer, the relationship between the advertising lawyer and the financing lawyer, and whether the advertising lawyer is likely to refer cases received through the advertisement to the financing lawyer. Similarly, in any communications such as television, radio, or other electronic programs purporting to give the public legal advice or legal information, for which programs the broadcaster receives any remuneration or other consideration, directly or indirectly, from the lawyer who appears on those programs, the lawyer shall conspicuously disclose to the public the fact that the broadcaster has been paid or receives consideration from the lawyer appearing on the program.

(e) A lawyer or law firm shall not advertise the existence of any office other than the principal office unless:

(1) that other office is staffed by a lawyer at least three days a week, or

(2) the advertisement states:

(A) the days and times during which a lawyer will be present at that office, or

(B) that meetings with lawyers will be by appointment only.

(f) Any advertisement or communication made pursuant to this Rule 4-7.2, other than written solicitations governed by the disclosure rules of Rule 4-7.3(b), shall contain the following conspicuous disclosure:

“The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements.”

“Conspicuous” means that the required disclosure must be of such size, color, contrast, location, duration, cadence, or audibility that an ordinary person can readily notice, read, hear, or understand it.

(g) The disclosures required by Rule 4-7.2(e) and (f) need not be made if the information communicated is limited to the following:

(1) the name of the law firm and the names of lawyers in the firm;

(2) one or more fields of law in which the lawyer or law firm practices;

(3) the date and place of admission to the bar of state and federal courts; and

(4) the address, including e-mail and web site address, telephone number, and office hours.

(h) Any words or statements required by Rules 4-7.1, 4-7.2, or 4-7.3 to appear in an advertisement or direct mail communication must appear in the same language in a which the advertisement or direct mail solicitation appears. If more than one language is used in an advertisement or direct mail communication, any words or statements required by Rules 4-7.1 to 4-7.6 must appear in each language used in the advertisement or direct mail communication.

(i) The provisions of Rule 4-7.2 shall not apply to services provided by a not-for-profit organization funded in whole or in part by the Legal Services Corporation established by 42 U.S.C. section 2996(b) or to pro bono services provided free of charge by a not-for-profit organization, a court-annexed program, a bar association, or an accredited law school.

The provisions of Rule 4-7.2 shall not apply to law firms or lawyers who promote, support or publicize through advertising that substantially and predominantly features any of the following: legal services corporation; community or other non-profit organization; recognized community events or celebrations; institutions; entities; or individuals other than themselves.

(Adopted Aug. 7, 1985, eff. Jan. 1, 1986. Amended June 21, 1994, eff. Jan. 1, 1995; Dec. 1, 1994, eff. July 1, 1995; Aug. 1, 1995, eff. Jan. 1, 1996; Nov. 25, 2003, eff. Jan. 1, 2004; Sept. 19, 2005, eff. Jan. 1, 2006; March 1, 2007, eff. July 1, 2007; Nov. 25, 2009, eff. July 1, 2010.)

Comment

[1] To assist the public in obtaining legal services, lawyers should be allowed to make known their services not only through reputation but also through organized information campaigns in the form of advertising. Advertising involves an active quest for clients, contrary to the tradition that a lawyer should not seek clientele. However, the public’s need to know about legal services can be fulfilled in part through advertising. This need is particularly acute in the case of persons of moderate means who have not made extensive use of legal services. The interest in expanding public information about legal services ought to prevail over considerations of tradition. Nevertheless, advertising by lawyers entails the risk of practices that are misleading or overreaching.

Paying Others to Recommend a Lawyer.

[2] A lawyer is allowed to pay for advertising permitted by this Rule 4-7.2, but otherwise is not permitted to pay another person for channeling professional work. This restriction does not prevent an organization or person other than the lawyer from advertising or recommending the lawyer’s services. Thus, a legal aid agency or prepaid legal services plan may pay to advertise legal services provided under its auspices. Likewise, a lawyer may participate in not-for-profit lawyer referral programs and pay the usual fees charged by such programs. Rule 4-7.2(c) does not prohibit paying regular compensation to an assistant, such as a secretary, to prepare communications permitted by this Rule. Rule 4-7.2(c) also does not prohibit paying a person for making a testimonial or endorsement in compliance with Rule 4-7.1(h).

Supplemental Missouri Comment

[1] Advertising concerning a lawyer’s services should be motivated by a desire to educate the public to an awareness of legal needs and to provide information relevant to the selection of appropriate counsel. Information communicated in advertising should be disseminated in an objective and understandable fashion and should be relevant to a prospective client’s ability to choose a lawyer. A lawyer should strive to communicate such information without undue emphasis upon advertising stratagems, which serve to hinder rather than to facilitate intelligent selection of counsel. Tasteful advertising is a matter of subjective interpretation. However, in all communications concerning a lawyer’s services, a lawyer should avoid advertising that serves to denigrate the dignity of the profession or trust in courts, of which every lawyer functions as an officer.

[2] Rule 4-7.2(d) and (e) have been added to jointly address the problem of advertising that experience has shown misleads the public concerning the location where services will be provided or the lawyer who will be performing these services. Together they prohibit the same sort of “bait and switch” advertising tactics by lawyers that are universally condemned.

[3] Rule 4-7.2(e) also prohibits advertising the availability of a satellite office that is not staffed by a lawyer at least on a part-time basis. Rule 4-7.2 does not require, however, that a lawyer or firm identify the particular office as its principal one. Experience has shown that, in the absence of such regulation, members of the public have been misled into employing a lawyer in a distant city who advertises that there is a nearby satellite office, only to learn later that the lawyer is rarely available to the client because the nearby office is seldom open or is staffed only by lay personnel.

[4] Rule 4-7.2(e) is not intended to restrict the ability of legal services programs to advertise satellite offices in remote parts of the program’s service area even if those satellite offices are staffed irregularly by attorneys. Otherwise, low-income individuals in and near such communities might be denied access to the only legal services truly available to them.

[5] When a lawyer or firm advertises, the public has a right to expect that lawyer or firm will perform the legal services. Experience has shown that lawyers not in the same firm may create a relationship wherein one will finance advertising for the other in return for referrals. Nondisclosure of such a referral relationship is misleading to the public. Accordingly, Rule 4-7.2(d) prohibits such a relationship between an advertising lawyer and a lawyer who finances the advertising unless the advertisement discloses the nature of the financial relationship between the two lawyers. Rule 4-7.2(d) also requires disclosure if a broadcaster receives remuneration from a lawyer appearing on any television, radio, or other electronic program purporting to give the public legal advice.

[6] In the case of television, the disclosure required by Rule 4-7.2(f) may be made orally or in writing. In the case of radio, the disclosure must be made orally. The disclosure required by Rule 4-7.2(f) may, at the option of the advertiser, include the following language: “This disclosure is required by rule of the Supreme Court of Missouri.” This disclosure is only required for advertisements in Missouri.

[7] Disclosures that are large in size, are emphasized through a sharply contrasting color, and, in the case of television advertisements, remain visible or audible for a sufficiently long duration are likely to be more effective than those lacking such prominence. The disclosure should be prominent enough that the ordinary person will actually see and understand it in the context of the actual advertisement. Disclosures generally are more effective when they are made in the same mode (visual or oral) in which the claim necessitating the disclosure is presented.

[8] Even if a disclosure is large in size and long in duration, other elements of an advertisement may distract the ordinary person so that they may fail to notice the disclosure. The advertisement should take care not to undercut the effectiveness of disclosures by placing them in competition with other arresting elements of the advertisement.

Rule 4-7.3 - Direct Contact with Prospective Clients

This Rule 4-7.3 applies to in-person and written solicitations by a lawyer with persons known to need legal services of the kind provided by the lawyer in a particular matter for the purpose of obtaining professional employment.

(a) In-person solicitation. A lawyer may not initiate the in-person, telephone, or real time electronic solicitation of legal business under any circumstance, other than with an existing or former client, lawyer, close friend, or relative.

(b) Written Solicitation. A lawyer may initiate written solicitations to an existing or former client, lawyer, friend, or relative without complying with the requirements of this Rule 4-7.3(b). Written solicitations to others are subject to the following requirements:

(1) any written solicitation by mail shall be plainly marked “ADVERTISEMENT” on the face of the envelope and all written solicitations shall be plainly marked “ADVERTISEMENT” at the top of the first page in type at least as large as the largest written type used in the written solicitation;

(2) the lawyer shall retain a copy of each such written solicitation for two years. If written identical solicitations are sent to two or more prospective clients, the lawyer may comply with this requirement by retaining a single copy together with a list of the names and addresses of persons to whom the written solicitation was sent;

(3) each written solicitation must include the following:

“Disregard this solicitation if you have already engaged a lawyer in connection with the legal matter referred to in this solicitation. You may wish to consult your lawyer or another lawyer instead of me (us). The exact nature of your legal situation will depend on many facts not known to me (us) at this time. You should understand that the advice and information in this solicitation is general and that your own situation may vary. This statement is required by rule of the Supreme Court of Missouri;”

(4) written solicitations mailed to prospective clients shall be sent only by regular United States mail, not registered mail or other forms of restricted or certified delivery;

(5) written solicitations mailed to prospective clients shall not be made to resemble legal pleadings or other legal documents;

(6) any written solicitation prompted by a specific occurrence involving or affecting the intended recipient of the solicitation or family member shall disclose how the lawyer obtained the information prompting the solicitation;

(7) a written solicitation seeking employment by a specific prospective client in a specific matter shall not reveal on the envelope or on the outside of a self-mailing brochure or pamphlet the nature of the client’s legal problem;

(8) if a lawyer knows that a lawyer other than the lawyer whose name or signature appears on the solicitation will actually handle the case or matter or that the case or matter will be referred to another lawyer or law firm, any written solicitation concerning a specific matter shall include a statement so advising the potential client; and

(9) a lawyer shall not send a written solicitation regarding a specific matter if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the person to whom the solicitation is directed is represented by a lawyer in the matter.

(c) A lawyer shall not send, nor knowingly permit to be sent, on behalf of the lawyer, the lawyer’s firm, the lawyer’s partner, an associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm a written solicitation to any prospective client for the purpose of obtaining professional employment if:

(1) it has been made known to the lawyer that the person does not want to receive such solicitations from the lawyer;

(2) the written solicitation involves coercion, duress, fraud, overreaching, harassment, intimidation, or undue influence;

(3) the written solicitation contains a false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive statement or claim or makes claims as to the comparative quality of legal services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated, or asserts opinions about the liability of the defendant or offers assurances of client satisfaction;

(4) the written solicitation concerns an action for personal injury or wrongful death or otherwise relates to an accident or disaster involving the person solicited or a relative of that person if the accident or disaster occurred less than 30 days prior to the solicitation or if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the physical, emotional, or mental state of the person solicited makes it unlikely that the person would exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer; or

(5) the written solicitation vilifies, denounces or disparages any other potential party.

(d) The provisions of Rule 4-7.3 shall not apply to services provided by a not-for-profit organization funded in whole or in part by the Legal Services Corporation established by 42 U.S.C. Section 2996(b) or to pro bono services provided free of charge by a not-for-profit organization, a court annexed program, a bar association, or an accredited law school.

(Adopted Aug. 7, 1985, eff. Jan. 1, 1986. Amended June 21, 1994, eff. Jan. 1, 1995; Dec. 19, 1995, eff. July 1, 1996; Sept. 19, 2005, eff. Jan. 1, 2006; March 1, 2007, ef. July 1, 2007; Nov. 25, 2009, eff. July 1, 2010.)

Comment

[1] There is a potential for abuse inherent in direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact by a lawyer with a prospective client known to need legal services. These forms of contact between a lawyer and a prospective client subject the layperson to the private importuning of the trained advocate in a direct interpersonal encounter. The prospective client, who already may feel overwhelmed by the circumstances giving rise to the need for legal services, may find it difficult fully to evaluate all available alternatives with reasoned judgment and appropriate self-interest in the face of the lawyer’s presence and insistence upon being retained immediately. The situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and over-reaching.

[2] The use of general advertising and written, recorded, or electronic communications to transmit information from lawyer to prospective client, rather than direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact, will help to assure that the information flows cleanly as well as freely. The contents of advertisements and communications permitted under Rule 4-7.2 can be permanently recorded so that they cannot be disputed and may be shared with others who know the lawyer. This potential for informal review is itself likely to help guard against statements and claims that might constitute false and misleading communications in violation of Rule 4-7.1. The contents of direct in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic conversations between a lawyer and a prospective client can be disputed and may not be subject to third-party scrutiny. Consequently, they are much more likely to approach (and occasionally cross) the dividing line between accurate representations and those that are false and misleading.

[3] There is far less likelihood that a lawyer would engage in abusive practices against an individual who is a former client, or with whom the lawyer has close personal or family relationship, or in situations in which the lawyer is motivated by considerations other than the lawyer’s pecuniary gain. Nor is there a serious potential for abuse when the person contacted is a lawyer. Consequently, the general prohibition in Rule 4-7.3(a) and the requirements of Rule 4-7.3(b) are not applicable in those situations. Also, Rule 4-7.3(a) is not intended to prohibit a lawyer from participating in constitutionally protected activities of public or charitable legal-service organizations or bona fide political, social, civic, fraternal, employee, or trade organizations whose purposes include providing or recommending legal services to its members or beneficiaries.

[4] But even permitted forms of solicitation can be abused. Thus, any solicitation that contains information that is false or misleading within the meaning of Rule 4-7.1, which involves coercion, duress, or harassment within the meaning of Rule 4-7.3(c)(2), or which involves contact with a prospective client who has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer within the meaning of Rule 4-7.3(c)(1) is prohibited.

[5] This Rule 4-7.3 is not intended to prohibit a lawyer from contacting representatives of organizations or groups that may be interested in establishing a group or prepaid legal plan for their members, insureds, beneficiaries, or other third parties for the purpose of informing such entities of the availability of and details concerning the plan or arrangement that the lawyer or lawyer’s firm is willing to offer. This form of communication is not directed to a prospective client. Rather, it is usually addressed to an individual acting in a fiduciary capacity seeking a supplier of legal services for others who may, if they choose, become prospective clients of the lawyer. Under these circumstances, the activity that the lawyer undertakes in communicating with such representatives and the type of information transmitted to the individual are functionally similar to and serve the same purpose as advertising permitted under Rule 4-7.2.

[6] The requirement in Rule 4-7.3(b)(1) that certain communications be marked “Advertisement” does not apply to communications sent in response to requests of potential clients or their spokespersons or sponsors. General announcements by lawyers, including changes in personnel or office location, do not constitute communications soliciting professional employment from a client known to be in need of legal services within the meaning of this Rule 4-7.3.

Supplemental Missouri Comment

[1] Rule 4-7.3(a) is similar to but less restrictive than Iowa Disciplinary Rule DR 2-101(4). The United States Supreme Court in the case of Ohralik v. Ohio State Bar Association, 436 U.S. 447 (1978), held that a state could categorically ban all in-person solicitation.

[2] Rule 4-7.3(b)(1) and (b)(2) are from Rule 4-7.3 of the Rhode Island rules of the court. Rule 4-7.3(b)(9), (c)(1), and (c)(2) are from Rhode Island Rule 4-7.3(b)(2)(a), (b), and (c).

[3] Rule 4-7.3(c)(3) is taken in part from suggestions found in Shapero v. Kentucky Bar Assn., 486 U. S. 466 (1988), which condemned written solicitation that unduly emphasized trivial and uninformative facts or that stated that “the liability of the defendants is clear” or that made claims about the quality of legal services.

[4] Rule 4-7.3(c)(4) is taken from South Carolina Appellate Court Rule 4-7.3(b)(3) and is similar to Florida’s 30-day ban on direct mailing of solicitations to personal injury and wrongful death clients. The Florida 30-day moratorium was upheld in Florida Bar v. Went For It, Inc., 515 U.S. 618 (1995). The Supreme Court held that the Florida rule did not violate the lawyer’s first amendment rights because it served a legitimate state interest in protecting the privacy and sensibilities of accident victims and helped preserve the integrity of the bar and the public’s perception of the administration of justice.

[5] Rule 4-7.3(b)(3) to (8) are taken from South Carolina Appellate Court Rule 7.3(c)(2) and (3), except South Carolina Rule 7.3(c)(3)(i) was eliminated.

[6] The requirements of Rule 4-7.3(b) apply to written solicitations disseminated in Missouri.

Rule 4-7.4 - Communication of Fields of Practice and Specialization

A lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law. Any such communication shall conform to the requirements of Rule 4-7.1. Except as provided in Rule 4-7.4(a) and (b), a lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is a specialist unless the communication contains a disclaimer that neither the Supreme Court of Missouri nor The Missouri Bar reviews or approves certifying organizations or specialist designations.

(a) A lawyer admitted to engage in patent practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office may use the designation “patent attorney” or a substantially similar designation;

(b) A lawyer engaged in admiralty practice may use the designation “admiralty,” “proctor in admiralty” or a substantially similar designation.

(Adopted Aug. 7, 1985, eff. Jan. 1, 1986. Amended Oct. 16, 1991; amended March 1, 2007, eff. July 1, 2007.)

Comment

[1] Rule 4-7.4 permits a lawyer to indicate areas of practice in communications about the lawyer’s services; for example, in a telephone directory or other advertising. If a lawyer practices only in certain fields, or will not accept matters except in such fields, the lawyer is permitted so to indicate.

[2] Recognition of specialization in patent matters is a matter of long-established policy of the Patent and Trademark Office. Designation of admiralty practice has a long historical tradition associated with maritime commerce and the federal courts.

[3] The second sentence of this Rule 4-7.4 has been added to the ABA Model Rule in order to ensure that any field-of-practice advertising complies with the general rule concerning communications about lawyers’ services.

Rule 4-7.5 - Firm Names and Letterheads

(a) A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead, or other professional designation that violates Rule 4-7.1. A trade name may be used by a lawyer in private practice if it does not imply a connection with a government agency or with a public or charitable legal services organization and is not otherwise in violation of Rule 4-71.

(b) A law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction may use the same name or other professional designation in each jurisdiction, but identification of the lawyers in an office of the firm shall indicate the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the office is located.

(c) The name of a lawyer holding a public office shall not be used in the name of a law firm, or in communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm.

(d) Lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other organization only when that is the fact.

(Adopted Aug. 7, 1985, eff. Jan. 1, 1986. Amended March 1, 2007, eff. July 1, 2007.)

Comment

[1] A firm may be designated by the names of all or some of its members, by the names of deceased members where there has been a continuing succession in the firm’s identity, or by a trade name such as the “ABC Legal Clinic.” A lawyer or law firm may also be designated by a distinctive website address or comparable professional designation. Although the United States Supreme Court has held that legislation may prohibit the use of trade names in professional practice, use of such names in law practice is acceptable so long as it is not misleading. If a private firm uses a trade name that includes a geographical name, such as “Springfield Legal Clinic,” an express disclaimer that it is a public legal aid agency may be required to avoid a misleading implication. It may be observed that any firm name including the name of a deceased partner is, strictly speaking, a trade name. The use of such names to designate law firms has proven a useful means of identification. However, it is misleading to use the name of a lawyer not associated with the firm or a predecessor of the firm.

[2] With regard to Rule 4-7.5(d), lawyers sharing office facilities, but who are not in fact associated with each other in a law firm, may not denominate themselves as, for example, “Smith and Jones,” for that title suggests that they are practicing law together in a firm.

Rule 4-1.6 - Confidentiality of Information

(a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, or the disclosure is permitted by Rule 4-1.6(b).

(b) A lawyer may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:

(1) to prevent death or substantial bodily harm that is reasonably certain to occur;

(2) to secure legal advice about the lawyer’s compliance with these Rules;

(3) to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client, to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim against the lawyer based upon conduct in which the client was involved, or to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client;

(4) to comply with other law or a court order; or

(5) to detect and resolve conflicts of interest arising from the lawyer’s change of employment or from changes in the composition or ownership of a firm, but only if the revealed information would not compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client.

(c) A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of the client.

(Adopted Aug. 7, 1985, eff. Jan. 1, 1986. Amended March 1, 2007, eff. July 1, 2007; Sept. 26, 2017, eff. Sept. 26, 2017.)

Comment

[1] This Rule 4-1.6 governs the disclosure by a lawyer of information relating to the representation of a client during the lawyer’s representation of the client. SeeRule 4-1.18 for the lawyer’s duties with respect to information provided to the lawyer by a prospective client, Rule 4-1.9(c)(2) for the lawyer’s duty not to reveal information relating to the lawyer’s prior representation of a former client, and Rules 4-1.8(b) and 4-1.9(c)(1) for the lawyer’s duties with respect to the use of such information to the disadvantage of clients and former clients.

[2] A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the absence of the client’s informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation. See Rule 4-1.0(e) for the definition of “informed consent.” This contributes to the trust that is the hallmark of the client-lawyer relationship. The client is thereby encouraged to seek legal assistance and to communicate fully and frankly with the lawyer even as to embarrassing or legally damaging subject matter. The lawyer needs this information to represent the client effectively and, if necessary, to advise the client to refrain from wrongful conduct. Almost without exception, clients come to lawyers in order to determine their rights and what is, in the complex of laws and regulations, deemed to be legal and correct. Based upon experience, lawyers know that almost all clients follow the advice given, and the law is upheld.

[3] The principle of client-lawyer confidentiality is given effect by related bodies of law: the attorney-client privilege, the work-product doctrine, and the rule of confidentiality established in professional ethics. The attorney-client privilege and work-product doctrine apply in judicial and other proceedings in which a lawyer may be called as a witness or otherwise required to produce evidence concerning a client. The rule of client-lawyer confidentiality applies in situations other than those where evidence is sought from the lawyer through compulsion of law. The confidentiality rule, for example, not only applies to matters communicated in confidence by the client, but also to all information relating to the representation, whatever its source. A lawyer may not disclose such information except as authorized or required by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law. See also Scope.

[4] Rule 4-1.6(a) prohibits a lawyer from revealing information relating to the representation of a client. This prohibition also applies to disclosures by a lawyer that do not in themselves reveal protected information but could reasonably lead to the discovery of such information by a third person. A lawyer’s use of a hypothetical to discuss issues relating to the representation is permissible so long as there is no reasonable likelihood that the listener will be able to ascertain the identity of the client or the situation involved.

Authorized Disclosure

[5] Except to the extent that the client’s instructions or special circumstances limit that authority, a lawyer is impliedly authorized to make disclosures about a client when appropriate in carrying out the representation. In some situations, for example, a lawyer may be impliedly authorized to admit a fact that cannot properly be disputed or to make a disclosure that facilitates a satisfactory conclusion to a matter. Lawyers in a firm may, in the course of the firm’s practice, disclose to each other information relating to a client of the firm, unless the client has instructed that particular information be confined to specified lawyers.

Disclosure Adverse to Client

[6] Although the public interest is usually best served by a strict rule requiring lawyers to preserve the confidentiality of information relating to the representation of their clients, the confidentiality rule is subject to limited exceptions. Rule 4-1.6(b)(1) recognizes the overriding value of life and physical integrity and permits disclosure reasonably necessary to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm. Such harm is reasonably certain to occur if it will be suffered imminently or if there is a present and substantial threat that a person will suffer such harm at a later date if the lawyer fails to take action necessary to eliminate the threat. Thus, a lawyer who knows that a client has accidentally discharged toxic waste into a town’s water supply may reveal this information to the authorities if there is a present and substantial risk that a person who drinks the water will contract a life-threatening or debilitating disease and the lawyer’s disclosure is necessary to eliminate the threat or reduce the number of victims.

[7] A lawyer’s confidentiality obligations do not preclude a lawyer from securing confidential legal advice about the lawyer’s personal responsibility to comply with these Rules. In most situations, disclosing information to secure such advice will be impliedly authorized for the lawyer to carry out the representation. Even when the disclosure is not impliedly authorized, Rule 4-1.6(b)(2) permits such disclosure because of the importance of a lawyer’s compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

[8] Where a legal claim or disciplinary charge alleges complicity of the lawyer in a client’s conduct or other misconduct of the lawyer involving representation of the client, the lawyer may respond to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to establish a defense. The same is true with respect to a claim involving the conduct or representation of a former client. Such a charge can arise in a civil, criminal, disciplinary, or other proceeding and can be based on a wrong allegedly committed by the lawyer against the client or on a wrong alleged by a third person, for example, a person claiming to have been defrauded by the lawyer and client acting together. The lawyer’s right to respond arises when an assertion of such complicity has been made. Rule 4-1.6(b)(3) does not require the lawyer to await the commencement of an action or proceeding that charges such complicity, so that the defense may be established by responding directly to a third party who has made such an assertion. The right to defend also applies, of course, where a proceeding has been commenced.

[9] A lawyer entitled to a fee is permitted by Rule 4-1.6(b)(3) to prove the services rendered in an action to collect it. This aspect of the rule expresses the principle that the beneficiary of a fiduciary relationship may not exploit it to the detriment of the fiduciary.

[10] Other law may require that a lawyer disclose information about a client. Whether such a law supersedes Rule 4-1.6 is a question of law beyond the scope of these Rules. When disclosure of information relating to the representation appears to be required by other law, the lawyer must discuss the matter with the client to the extent required by Rule 4-1.4. If, however, the other law supersedes this Rule and requires disclosure, Rule 4-1.6(b)(4) permits the lawyer to make such disclosures as are necessary to comply with the law.

[11] A lawyer may be ordered to reveal information relating to the representation of a client by a court or by another tribunal or governmental entity claiming authority pursuant to other law to compel the disclosure. Absent informed consent of the client to do otherwise, the lawyer should assert on behalf of the client all non-frivolous claims that the order is not authorized by other law or that the information sought is protected against disclosure by the attorney-client privilege or other applicable law. In the event of an adverse ruling, the lawyer must consult with the client about the possibility of appeal to the extent required by Rule 4-1.4. Unless review is sought, however, Rule 4-1.6(b)(4) permits the lawyer to comply with the court’s order.

[12] Rule 4-1.6(b) permits disclosure only to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes the disclosure is necessary to accomplish one of the purposes specified. Where practicable, the lawyer should first seek to persuade the client to take suitable action to obviate the need for disclosure. In any case, a disclosure adverse to the client’s interest should be no greater than the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to accomplish the purpose. If the disclosure will be made in connection with a judicial proceeding, the disclosure should be made in a manner that limits access to the information to the tribunal or other persons having a need to know it, and appropriate protective orders or other arrangements should be sought by the lawyer to the fullest extent practicable.

[13] Rule 4-1.6(b) permits but does not require the disclosure of information relating to a client’s representation to accomplish the purposes specified in Rule 4-1.6(b)(1) to (b)(4). In exercising the discretion conferred by this Rule 4-1.6, the lawyer may consider such factors as the nature of the lawyer’s relationship with the client and with those who might be injured by the client, the lawyer’s own involvement in the transaction, and factors that may extenuate the conduct in question. A lawyer’s decision not to disclose as permitted by Rule 4-1.6(b) does not violate this Rule 4-1.6. Disclosure may be required, however, by other Rules. Some Rules require disclosure only if such disclosure would be permitted by Rule 4-1.6(b). See Rules 4-1.2(d), 4-4.1(b), 4-8.1, and 4-8.3. Rule 4-3.3, on the other hand, requires disclosure in some circumstances regardless of whether such disclosure is permitted by this Rule. See Rule 4-3.3(c).

Withdrawal

[14] If the lawyer’s services will be used by the client in materially furthering a course of criminal or fraudulent conduct, the lawyer must withdraw, as stated in Rule 4-1.16(a)(1). After withdrawal, the lawyer is required to refrain from making disclosure of the client’s confidences, except as otherwise permitted in this Rule 4-1.6. Neither this Rule 4-1.6 nor Rule 4-1.8(b) nor Rule 4-1.16(d) prevents the lawyer from giving notice of the fact of withdrawal, and the lawyer may also withdraw or disaffirm any opinion, document, affirmation, or the like. Where the client is an organization, the lawyer may be in doubt whether contemplated conduct will actually be carried out by the organization. Where necessary to guide conduct in connection with this Rule 4-1.6, the lawyer may make inquiry within the organization as indicated in Rule 4-1.13(b).

Acting Competently to Preserve Confidentiality

[15] Paragraph (c) requires a lawyer to act competently to safeguard information relating to the representation of a client against unauthorized access by third parties and against inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure by the lawyer or other persons who are participating in the representation of the client or who are subject to the lawyer’s supervision. See Rules 4-1.1, 4-5.1, and 4-5.3. The unauthorized access to, or the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, information relating to the representation of a client does not constitute a violation of paragraph (c) if the lawyer has made reasonable efforts to prevent the access or disclosure. Factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of the lawyer’s efforts include, but are not limited to, the sensitivity of the information, the likelihood of disclosure if additional safeguards are not employed, the cost of employing additional safeguards, the difficulty of implementing the safeguards, and the extent to which the safeguards adversely affect the lawyer’s ability to represent clients (e.g., by making a device or important piece of software excessively difficult to use). A client may require the lawyer to implement special security measures not required by this Rule or may give informed consent to forgo security measures that would otherwise be required by this Rule. Whether a lawyer may be required to take additional steps to safeguard a client’s information in order to comply with other law, such as state and federal laws that govern data privacy or that impose notification requirements upon the loss of, or unauthorized access to, electronic information, is beyond the scope of these Rules. For a lawyer’s duties when sharing information with non-lawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm, see Rule 4-5.3, Comments [3]-[4].

[16] When transmitting a communication that includes information relating to the representation of a client, the lawyer must take reasonable precautions to prevent the information from coming into the hands of unintended recipients. This duty, however, does not require that the lawyer use special security measures if the method of communication affords a reasonable expectation of privacy. Special circumstances, however, may warrant special precautions. Factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of the lawyer’s expectation of confidentiality include the sensitivity of the information and the extent to which the privacy of the communication is protected by law or by a confidentiality agreement. A client may require the lawyer to implement special security measures not required by this Rule or may give informed consent to the use of a means of communication that would otherwise be prohibited by this Rule. Whether a lawyer may be required to take additional steps in order to comply with other law, such as state and federal laws that govern data privacy, is beyond the scope of these Rules.

Former Client

[17] The duty of confidentiality continues after the client-lawyer relationship has terminated. See Rule 4-1.9(c)(2). See Rule 4-1.9(c)(1) for the prohibition against using such information to the disadvantage of the former client.

[18] Paragraph (b)(5) recognizes that lawyers in different firms may need to disclose limited information to each other to detect and resolve conflicts of interest, such as when a lawyer is considering an association with another firm, two or more firms are considering a merger, or a lawyer is considering the purchase of a law practice. See Rule 4-1.17, Comment [6]. Under these circumstances, lawyers and law firms are permitted to disclose limited information, but only once substantive discussions regarding the new relationship have occurred. Any such disclosure should ordinarily include no more than the identity of the persons and entities involved in a matter, a brief summary of the general issues involved, and information about whether the matter has terminated. Even this limited information, however, should be disclosed only to the extent reasonably necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest that might arise from the possible new relationship. Moreover, the disclosure of any information is prohibited if it would compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client (e.g., the fact that a corporate client is seeking advice on a corporate takeover that has not been publicly announced; that a person has consulted a lawyer about the possibility of divorce before the person’s intentions are known to the person’s spouse; or that a person has consulted a lawyer about a criminal investigation that has not led to a public charge). Under those circumstances, paragraph (a) prohibits disclosure unless the client or former client gives informed consent. A lawyer’s fiduciary duty to the lawyer’s firm may also govern a lawyer’s conduct when exploring an association with another firm and is beyond the scope of these Rules.

[19] Any information disclosed pursuant to paragraph (b)(5) may be used or further disclosed only to the extent necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest. Paragraph (b)(5) does not restrict the use of information acquired by means independent of any disclosure pursuant to paragraph (b)(5). Paragraph (b)(5) also does not affect the disclosure of information within a law firm when the disclosure is otherwise authorized, see Comment [5], such as when a lawyer in a firm discloses information to another lawyer in the same firm to detect and resolve conflicts of interest that could arise in connection with undertaking a new representation.

*This information is provided as a convenience to the viewers of this material. Viewers should conduct their own research or rely on the advice of a lawyer before relying on the information here.