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 7.1 - Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Service

(a) A lawyer shall not make false or misleading communications about the lawyer, the lawyer’s services, or any matter in which the lawyer has or seeks a professional involvement. A communication is false or misleading if it:

(1) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;

(2) is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law;

(3) compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless (i) the name of the comparing organization is stated, (ii) the basis for the comparison can be substantiated, and (iii) the communication includes the following disclaimer in a readily discernible manner: “No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey”; or

(4) relates to legal fees other than:

(i) a statement of the fee for an initial consultation;

(ii) a statement of the fixed or contingent fee charged for a specific legal service, the description of which would not be misunderstood or be deceptive;

(iii) a statement of the range of fees for specifically described legal services, provided there is a reasonable disclosure of all relevant variables and considerations so that the statement would not be misunderstood or be deceptive;

(iv) a statement of specified hourly rates, provided the statement makes clear that the total charge will vary according to the number of hours devoted to the matter, and in relation to the varying hourly rates charged for the services of different individuals who may be assigned to the matter;

(v) the availability of credit arrangements; and

(vi) a statement of the fees charged by a qualified legal assistance organization in which the lawyer participates for specific legal services the description of which would not be misunderstood or be deceptive

(b) It shall be unethical for a lawyer to use an advertisement or other related communication known to have been disapproved by the Committee on Attorney Advertising, or one substantially the same as the one disapproved, until or unless modified or reversed by the Advertising Committee or as provided by Rule 1:19A-3(d).

Comment

[1] A truthful communication that the lawyer has received an honor or accolade is not misleading or impermissibly comparative for purposes of this Rule if: (1) the conferrer has made inquiry into the attorney’s fitness; (2) the conferrer does not issue such an honor or accolade for a price; and (3) a truthful, plain language description of the standard or methodology upon which the honor or accolade is based is available for inspection either as part of the communication itself or by reference to a convenient, publicly available source.

Rule 7.2 - Advertising

(a) Subject to the requirements of RPC 7.1, a lawyer may advertise services through public media, such as a telephone directory, legal directory, newspaper or other periodical, radio or television, internet or other electronic media, or through mailed written communication. All advertisements shall be predominantly informational. No drawings, animations, dramatizations, music, or lyrics shall be used in connection with televised advertising. No advertisement shall rely in any way on techniques to obtain attention that depend upon absurdity and that demonstrate a clear and intentional lack of relevance to the selection of counsel; included in this category are all advertisements that contain any extreme portrayal of counsel exhibiting characteristics clearly unrelated to legal competence.

(b) A copy or recording of an advertisement or written communication shall be kept for three years after its dissemination along with a record of when and where it was used. Lawyers shall capture all material on their websites, in the form of an electronic or paper backup, including all new content, on at least a monthly basis, and retain this information for three years.

(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; (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 RPC 1.17; and (3) a lawyer may pay the usual charges of a not-for-profit lawyer referral service or other legal service organization.

Rule 7.3 - Personal Contact with Prospective Clients

(a) A lawyer may initiate personal contact with a prospective client for the purpose of obtaining professional employment, subject to the requirements of paragraph (b).

(b) A lawyer shall not contact, or send a written or electronic or other form of communication to, a prospective client for the purpose of obtaining professional employment if:

(1) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the physical, emotional or mental state of the person is such that the person could not exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer; or

(2) the person has made known to the lawyer a desire not to receive communications from the lawyer; or

(3) the communication involves coercion, duress or harassment; or

(4) the communication involves unsolicited direct contact with a prospective client within thirty days after a specific mass-disaster event, when such contact concerns potential compensation arising from the event; or

(5) the communication involves unsolicited direct contact with a prospective client concerning a specific event not covered by section (4) of this Rule when such contact has pecuniary gain as a significant motive except that a lawyer may send a letter by regular mail to a prospective client in such circumstances provided the letter:

(i) bears the word “ADVERTISEMENT” prominently displayed in capital letters at the top of the first page of text and on the outside envelope, unless the lawyer has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the recipient. The envelope shall contain nothing other than the lawyer’s name, firm, return address and “ADVERTISEMENT” prominently displayed; and

(ii) shall contain the party’s name in the salutation and begin by advising the recipient that if a lawyer has already been retained the letter is to be disregarded; and

(iii) contains the following notice at the bottom of the last page of text: “Before making your choice of attorney, you should give this matter careful thought. The selection of an attorney is an important decision."; and

(iv) contains an additional notice also at the bottom of the last page of text that the recipient may, if the letter is inaccurate or misleading, report same to the Committee on Attorney Advertising, Hughes Justice Complex, P.O. Box 970, Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0970. The name and address of the attorney responsible for the content of the letter shall be included in the notice.

(c) A lawyer shall not knowingly assist an organization that furnishes or pays for legal services to others to promote the use of the lawyer’s services or those of the lawyer’s partner, or associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm, as a private practitioner, if:

(1) the promotional activity involves use of a statement or claim that is false or misleading within the meaning of RPC 7.1; or

(2) the promotional activity involves the use of coercion, duress, compulsion, intimidation, threats, unwarranted promises of benefits, overreaching, or vexatious or harassing conduct.

(d) A lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value to a person or organization to recommend or secure the lawyer’s employment by a client, or as a reward for having made a recommendation resulting in the lawyer’s employment by a client except that the lawyer may pay for public communications permitted by RPC 7.1 and the usual and reasonable fees or dues charged by a lawyer referral service operated, sponsored, or approved by a bar association.

(e) A lawyer shall not knowingly assist a person or organization that furnishes or pays for legal services to others to promote the use of the lawyer’s services or those of the lawyer’s partner or associate or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm except as permitted by RPC 7.1. However, this does not prohibit a lawyer or the lawyer’s partner or associate or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm from being recommended, employed or paid by or cooperating with one of the following offices or organizations that promote the use of the lawyer’s services or those of the lawyer’s partner or associate or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm if there is no interference with the exercise of independent professional judgment in behalf of the lawyer’s client:

(1) a legal aid office or public defender office:

(i) operated or sponsored by a duly accredited law school.

(ii) operated or sponsored by a bona fide nonprofit community organization.

(iii) operated or sponsored by a governmental agency.

(iv) operated, sponsored, or approved by a bar association.

(2) a military legal assistance office.

(3) a lawyer referral service operated, sponsored, or approved by a bar association.

(4) any bona fide organization that recommends, furnishes or pays for legal services to its members or beneficiaries provided the following conditions are satisfied:

(i) such organization, including any affiliate, is so organized and operated that no profit is derived by it from the furnishing, recommending or rendition of legal services by lawyers and that, if the organization is organized for profit, the legal services are not rendered by lawyers employed, directed, supervised or selected by it except in connection with matters when such organization bears ultimate liability of its member or beneficiary.

(ii) neither the lawyer, nor the lawyer’s partner or associate or any other lawyer or nonlawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm directly or indirectly who have initiated or promoted such organization shall have received any financial or other benefit from such initiation or promotion.

(iii) such organization is not operated for the purpose of procuring legal work or financial benefit for any lawyer as a private practitioner outside of the legal services program of the organization.

(iv) the member or beneficiary to whom the legal services are furnished, and not such organization, is recognized as the client of the lawyer in the matter.

(v) any member or beneficiary who is entitled to have legal services furnished or paid for by the organization may, if such member or beneficiary so desires, and at the member or beneficiary’s own expense except where the organization’s plan provides for assuming such expense, select counsel other than that furnished, selected or approved by the organization for the particular matter involved. Nothing contained herein, or in the plan of any organization that furnishes or pays for legal services pursuant to this section, shall be construed to abrogate the obligations and responsibilities of a lawyer to the lawyer’s client as set forth in these Rules.

(vi) the lawyer does not know or have cause to know that such organization is in violation of applicable laws, rules of court and other legal requirements that govern its legal service operations.

(vii) such organization has first filed with the Supreme Court and at least annually thereafter on the appropriate form prescribed by the Court a report with respect to its legal service plan. Upon such filing, a registration number will be issued and should be used by the operators of the plan on all correspondence and publications pertaining to the plan thereafter. Such organization shall furnish any additional information requested by the Supreme Court.

(f) A lawyer shall not accept employment when the lawyer knows or it is obvious that the person who seeks the lawyer’s services does so as a result of conduct prohibited under this Rule.

Rule 7.4 - Communication of Fields of Practice and Certification

(a) A lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law. A lawyer may not, however, state or imply that the lawyer has been recognized or certified as a specialist in a particular field of law except as provided in paragraphs (b), (c), and (d) of this Rule.

(b) 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.

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

(d) A lawyer may communicate that the lawyer has been certified as a specialist or certified in a field of practice only when the communication is not false or misleading, states the name of the certifying organization, and states that the certification has been granted by the Supreme Court of New Jersey or by an organization that has been approved by the American Bar Association. If the certification has been granted by an organization that has not been approved, or has been denied approval, by the Supreme Court of New Jersey or the American Bar Association, the absence or denial of such approval shall be clearly identified in each such communication by the lawyer.

Rule 7.5 - Firm Names and Letterheads

(a) A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead, or other professional designation that violates RPC 7.1. Except for organizations referred to in R. 1:21-1(e), the name under which a lawyer or law firm practices shall include the full or last names of one or more of the lawyers in the firm or office or the names of a person or persons who have ceased to be associated with the firm through death or retirement.

(b) A law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction may use the same name in each jurisdiction. In New Jersey, identification of all lawyers of the firm, in advertisements, on letterheads or anywhere else that the firm name is used, shall indicate the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice in New Jersey. Where the name of an attorney not licensed to practice in this State is used in a firm name, any advertisement, letterhead or other communication containing the firm name must include the name of at least one licensed New Jersey attorney who is responsible for the firm’s New Jersey practice or the local office thereof.

(c) A firm name shall not contain the name of any person not actively associated with the firm as an attorney, other than that of a person or persons who have ceased to be associated with the firm through death or retirement.

(d) Lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership only if the persons designated in the firm name and the principal members of the firm share in the responsibility and liability for the firm’s performance of legal services.

(e) A law firm name may include additional identifying language such as “& Associates” only when such language is accurate and descriptive of the firm. Any firm name including additional identifying language such as “Legal Services” or other similar phrases shall inform all prospective clients in the retainer agreement or other writing that the law firm is not affiliated or associated with a public, quasi-public or charitable organization. However, no firm shall use the phrase “legal aid” in its name or in any additional identifying language. Use of a trade name shall be permissible so long as it describes the nature of the firm’s legal practice in terms that are accurate, descriptive, and informative, but not misleading, comparative, or suggestive of the ability to obtain results. Such trade names shall be accompanied by the full or last names of one or more of the lawyers practicing in the firm or the names of lawyers who are no longer associated in the firm through death or retirement.

(f) In any case in which an organization practices under a trade name as permitted by paragraph (a) above, the name or names of one or more of its principally responsible attorneys, licensed to practice in this State, shall be displayed on all letterheads, signs, advertisements and cards or other places where the trade name is used.

Comment

[1] By way of example, “Millburn Tax Law Associates, John Smith, Esq.” would be permissible under the trade name provision of this rule, as would “Smith & Jones Millburn Personal Injury Lawyers,” provided that the law firm’s primary location is in Millburn and its primary practice area is tax law or personal injury law, respectively. “John Smith Criminal Defense and Municipal Law” would also be permissible. However, neither “Best Tax Lawyers” nor “Tax Fixers” would be permissible, the former being comparative and the latter being suggestive of the ability to achieve results. Similarly, “Budget Lawyer John Smith, Esq.” is not permissible as it is comparative and likely to be misleading; “Million Dollar Personal Injury Lawyer John Smith, Esq.” is not permissible as it suggests the ability to achieve results; and “Tough As Nails Lawyer John Smith, Esq.” is not permissible as it purports to describe the lawyer and does not describe the nature of the firm’s legal practice.

Rule 1.6 - Confidentiality of Information

(a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client consents after consultation, except for (1) disclosures that are impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, (2) disclosures of information that is generally known, and (3) as stated in paragraphs (b), (c), and (d).

(b) A lawyer shall reveal such information to the proper authorities, as soon as, and to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary, to prevent the client or another person:

(1) from committing a criminal, illegal or fraudulent act that the lawyer reasonably believes is likely to result in death or substantial bodily harm or substantial injury to the financial interest or property of another; or

(2) from committing a criminal, illegal or fraudulent act that the lawyer reasonably believes is likely to perpetrate a fraud upon a tribunal.

(c) If a lawyer reveals information pursuant to RPC 1.6(b), the lawyer also may reveal the information to the person threatened to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes is necessary to protect that person from death, substantial bodily harm, substantial financial injury, or substantial property loss.

(d) A lawyer may reveal such information to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:

(1) to rectify the consequences of a client’s criminal, illegal or fraudulent act in the furtherance of which the lawyer’s services had been used;

(2) to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client, or to establish a defense to a criminal charge, civil claim or disciplinary complaint against the lawyer based upon the conduct in which the client was involved; or

(3) to prevent the client from causing death or substantial bodily harm to himself or herself;

(4) to comply with other law; 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, or resulting from the sale of a firm, but only if the revealed information would not compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client. Any information so disclosed may be used or further disclosed only to the extent necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest.

(e) Reasonable belief for purposes of RPC 1.6 is the belief or conclusion of a reasonable lawyer that is based upon information that has some foundation in fact and constitutes prima facie evidence of the matters referred to in subsections (b), (c), or (d).

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

Comment (August 1, 2016)

[1] Paragraph (d)(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 merger, or a lawyer is considering the purchase of a law practice. 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 written 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.

[2] Any information disclosed pursuant to paragraph (d)(5) may be used or further disclosed only to the extent necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest. Paragraph (d)(5) does not restrict the use of information acquired by means independent of any disclosure pursuant to paragraph (d)(5). Paragraph (d)(5) also does not affect the disclosure of information within a law firm when the disclosure is otherwise authorized, 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.

[3] Paragraph (f) requires a lawyer to act competently to safeguard information, including electronically stored 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 or entities who are participating in the representation of the client or who are subject to the lawyer’s supervision. The unauthorized access to, or the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, confidential information relating to the representation of a client does not constitute a violation of paragraph (f) 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 in writing 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.

Comment (September 1, 2018)

[1] The Court adopts the comment in the Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers on confidential information, which states:

[2] Whether information is “generally known” depends on all circumstances relevant in obtaining the information. Information contained in books or records in public libraries, public-record depositaries such as government offices, or in publicly accessible electronic-data storage is generally known if the particular information is obtainable through publicly available indexes and similar methods of access. Information is not generally known when a person interested in knowing the information could obtain it only by means of special knowledge or substantial difficulty or expense. Special knowledge includes information about the whereabouts or identity of a person or other source from which the information can be acquired, if those facts are not themselves generally known.

*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.