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 Services

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

(3) compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.

(b) A communication by a lawyer that contains a dramatization depicting a fictional situation is misleading unless it complies with paragraph (a) above and contains a conspicuous written or oral statement, at the beginning and the end of the communication, explaining that the communication contains a dramatization and does not depict actual events or real persons.

Comment

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

[2] Truthful statements that are misleading are also prohibited by this Rule. A truthful statement is misleading if it omits a fact necessary to make the lawyer’s communication considered as a whole not materially misleading. A truthful statement is also misleading if there is a substantial likelihood that it will lead a reasonable person to formulate a specific conclusion about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services for which there is no reasonable factual foundation.

[3] An advertisement that truthfully reports a lawyer’s achievements on behalf of clients or former clients may be misleading if presented so as to lead a reasonable person to form an unjustified expectation that the same results could be obtained for other clients in similar matters without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances of each client’s case. Similarly, an unsubstantiated comparison of the lawyer’s services or fees with the services or fees of other lawyers may be misleading if presented with such specificity as would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the comparison can be substantiated. The inclusion of an appropriate disclaimer or qualifying language may preclude a finding that a statement is likely to create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead the public.

[4] See also Rule 8.4(e) for the prohibition against stating or implying an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

Rule 7.2 - Advertising

(a) Subject to the requirements of Rules 7.1 and 7.3, a lawyer may advertise services through written, recorded or electronic communication, including public media.

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

(1) pay the reasonable costs of advertisements or communications permitted by this Rule;

(2) pay the usual charges of a not-for-profit lawyer referral service that complies with Rule 7.2(d), or a prepaid or group legal services plan that complies with Rule 7.3(d); and

(3) pay for a law practice in accordance with Rule 1.17.

(c) Any communication made pursuant to this rule, other than that of a lawyer referral service as described in paragraph (d), shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.

(d) A lawyer may participate in a lawyer referral service subject to the following conditions:

(1) the lawyer is professionally responsible for its operation including the use of a false, deceptive, or misleading name by the referral service;

(2) the referral service is not operated for a profit;

(3) the lawyer may pay to the lawyer referral service only a reasonable sum which represents a proportionate share of the referral service’s administrative and advertising costs;

(4) the lawyer does not directly or indirectly receive anything of value other than legal fees earned from representation of clients referred by the service;

(5) employees of the referral service do not initiate contact with prospective clients and do not engage in live telephone or in-person solicitation of clients;

(6) the referral service does not collect any sums from clients or potential clients for use of the service; and

(7) all advertisements by the lawyer referral service shall:

(A) state that a list of all participating lawyers will be mailed free of charge to members of the public upon request and state where such information may be obtained; and

(B) explain the method by which the needs of the prospective client are matched with the qualifications of the recommended lawyer.

Comment

[1] To assist the public in learning about and obtaining legal services, lawyers are permitted 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 may entail the risk of practices that are misleading or overreaching.

[2] This Rule permits public dissemination of information concerning a lawyer’s name or firm name, address, email address, website, and telephone number; the kinds of services the lawyer will undertake; the basis on which the lawyer’s fees are determined, including prices for specific services and payment and credit arrangements; a lawyer’s foreign language ability; names of references and, with their consent, names of clients regularly represented; and other information that might invite the attention of those seeking legal assistance.

[3] Questions of effectiveness and taste in advertising are matters of speculation and subjective judgment. Television, the Internet, and other forms of electronic communication are now among the most powerful media for getting information to the public, particularly persons of low and moderate income; prohibiting television, Internet, and other forms of electronic advertising, therefore, would impede the flow of information about legal services to many sectors of the public. Limiting the information that may be advertised has a similar effect and assumes that the bar can accurately forecast the kind of information that the public would regard as relevant. But see Rule 7.1(b) for the disclaimer required in any advertisement that contains a dramatization and see Rule 7.3(a) for the prohibition against a solicitation through a real-time electronic exchange initiated by the lawyer.

[4] Neither this Rule nor Rule 7.3 prohibits communications authorized by law, such as notice to members of a class in class action litigation.

[5] “Electronic communication(s),” as used in Section 7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, refers to the transfer of writing, signals, data, sounds, images, signs or intelligence via an electronic device or over any electronic medium. Examples of electric communications include, but are not limited to, websites, email, text messages, social media messaging and image sharing. A lawyer who sends electronic communications to advertise or market the lawyer’s professional services must comply with these Rules and with any state or federal restrictions on such communications. See, e.g., N.C. Gen. Stat. §75-104; Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. §227; and 47 CFR 64.

Paying Others to Recommend a Lawyer

[6] Except as permitted under paragraphs (b)(1)-(b)(3), lawyers are not permitted to pay others for recommending the lawyer’s services or for channeling professional work in a manner that violates Rule 7.3. A communication contains a recommendation if it endorses or vouches for a lawyer’s credentials, abilities, competence, character, or other professional qualities. Paragraph (b)(1), however, allows a lawyer to pay for advertising and communications permitted by this Rule, including the costs of print directory listings, on-line directory listings, newspaper ads, television and radio airtime, domain-name registrations, sponsorship fees, Internet-based advertisements, and group advertising. A lawyer may compensate employees, agents, and vendors who are engaged to provide marketing or client-development services, such as publicists, public-relations personnel, business-development staff, and website designers. Moreover, a lawyer may pay others for generating client leads, such as Internet-based client leads, as long as the lead generator does not recommend the lawyer, any payment to the lead generator is consistent with Rule 1.5(e) (division of fees) and 5.4 (professional independence of the lawyer), and the lead generator’s communications are consistent with Rule 7.1 (communications concerning a lawyer’s service). To comply with Rule 7.1, a lawyer must not pay a lead generator if the lead generator states, implies, or creates an impression that it is recommending the lawyer, is making the referral without payment from the lawyer, or has analyzed a person’s legal problems when determining which lawyer should receive the referral. See also Rule 5.3 (duties of lawyers and law firms with respect to the conduct of nonlawyers); Rule 8.4(a) (duty to avoid violating the Rules through the acts of another).

[7] A lawyer may pay the usual charges of a prepaid or group legal services plan or a not-for-profit lawyer referral service. A legal services plan is defined in Rule 7.3(d). Such a plan assists people who seek to secure legal representation. A lawyer referral service, on the other hand, is any organization that holds itself out to the public as a lawyer referral service. Such referral services are understood by the public to be consumer-oriented organizations that provide unbiased referrals to lawyers with appropriate experience in the subject matter of the representation and afford other client protections, such as complaint procedures or malpractice insurance requirements. Consequently, this Rule only permits a lawyer to pay the usual charges of a not-for-profit lawyer referral service.

[8] A lawyer who accepts assignments or referrals from a prepaid or group legal service plan or referrals from a lawyer referral service must act reasonably to assure that the activities of the plan or service are compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations. See Rule 5.3. Any lawyer who participates in a legal services plan or lawyer referral service is professionally responsible for the operation of the service in accordance with these rules regardless of the lawyer’s knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of the activities of the service. Legal service plans and lawyer referral services may communicate with the public, but such communication must be in conformity with these Rules. Thus, advertising must not be false or misleading, as would be the case if the communications of a group advertising program or a group legal services plan would mislead prospective clients to think that it was a lawyer referral service sponsored by a state agency or bar association. The term “referral” implies that some attempt is made to match the needs of the prospective client with the qualifications of the recommended lawyer. To avoid misrepresentation, paragraph (d)(7)(B) requires that every advertisement for the service must include an explanation of the method by which a prospective client is matched with the lawyer to whom he or she is referred. In addition, the lawyer may not allow in-person, telephonic, or real-time contacts that would violate Rule 7.3.

Rule 7.3 - Direct Contact with Potential Clients

(a) A lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted:

(1) is a lawyer; or

(2) has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.

(b) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment from a potential client by written, recorded or electronic communication or by in-person, telephone or real-time electronic contact even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (a), if:

(1) the target of the solicitation has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer; or

(2) the solicitation involves coercion, duress, harassment, compulsion, intimidation, or threats.

(c) Targeted Communications. Unless the recipient of the communication is a person specified in paragraphs (a)(1) or (a)(2), every written, recorded, or electronic communication from a lawyer soliciting professional employment from anyone known to be in need of legal services in a particular matter shall include the statement, in capital letters, “THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR LEGAL SERVICES” (the advertising notice), which shall be conspicuous and subject to the following requirements:

(1) Written Communications. Written communications shall be mailed in an envelope. The advertising notice shall be printed on the front of the envelope, in a font that is as large as any other printing on the front or the back of the envelope. If more than one color or type of font is used on the front or the back of the envelope, the font used for the advertising notice shall match in color, type, and size the largest and widest of the fonts. The front of the envelope shall contain no printing other than the name of the lawyer or law firm and return address, the name and address of the recipient, and the advertising notice. The advertising notice shall also be printed at the beginning of the body of the enclosed written communication in a font as large as or larger than any other printing contained in the enclosed written communication. If more than one color or type of font is used on the enclosed written communication, then the font of the advertising notice shall match in color, type, and size the largest and widest of the fonts. Nothing on the envelope or the enclosed written communication shall be more conspicuous than the advertising notice.

(2) Electronic Communications. The advertising notice shall appear in the “in reference” or subject box of the address or header section of the communication. No other statement shall appear in this block. The advertising notice shall also appear,at the beginning and ending of the electronic communication, in a font as large as or larger than any other printing in the body of the communication or in any masthead on the communication. If more than one color or type of font is used in the electronic communication, then the font of the advertising notice shall match in color, type, and size the largest and widest of the fonts. Nothing in the electronic communication shall be more conspicuous than the advertising notice.

(3) Recorded Communications. The advertising notice shall be clearly articulated at the beginning and ending of the recorded communication.

(d) Notwithstanding the prohibitions in paragraph (a), a lawyer may participate with a prepaid or group legal service plan subject to the following:

(1) Definition. A prepaid legal services plan or a group legal services plan (“a plan”) is any arrangement by which a person, firm, or corporation, not otherwise authorized to engage in the practice of law, in exchange for any valuable consideration, offers to provide or arranges the provision of legal services that are paid for in advance of any immediate need for the specified legal service (“covered services”). In addition to covered services, a plan may provide specified legal services at fees that are less than what a non-member of the plan would normally pay. The North Carolina legal services offered by a plan must be provided by a licensed lawyer who is not an employee, director or owner of the plan. A prepaid legal services plan does not include the sale of an identified, limited legal service, such as drafting a will, for a fixed, one-time fee.

(2) Conditions for Participation.

(A) The plan must be operated by an organization that is not owned or directed by the lawyer;

(B) The plan must be registered with the North Carolina State Bar and comply with all applicable rules regarding such plans;

(C) The lawyer must notify the State Bar in writing before participating in a plan and must notify the State Bar no later than 30 days after the lawyer discontinues participation in the plan;

(D) After reasonable investigation, the lawyer must have a good faith belief that the plan is being operated in compliance with the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct and other pertinent rules of the State Bar;

(E) All advertisements by the plan representing that it is registered with the State Bar shall also explain that registration does not constitute approval by the State Bar; and

(F) Notwithstanding the prohibitions in paragraph (a), the plan may use in-person or telephone contact to solicit memberships or subscriptions provided:

(i) The solicited person is not known to need legal services in a particular matter covered by the plan; and

(ii) The contact does not involve coercion, duress, or harassment and the communication with the solicited person is not false, deceptive or misleading.

Comment

[1] A solicitation is a communication initiated by the lawyer that is directed to a specific person and that offers to provide, or can reasonably be understood as offering to provide, legal services. In contrast, a lawyer’s communication typically does not constitute a solicitation if it is directed to the general public, such as through a billboard, an Internet banner advertisement, a website or a television commercial, or if it is in response to a request for information or is automatically generated in response to Internet searches.

[2] There is a potential for abuse when a solicitation involves direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact by a lawyer with someone known to need legal services. These forms of contact subject a person to the private importuning of the trained advocate in a direct interpersonal encounter. The person, who may already 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.

[3] This potential for abuse inherent in direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic solicitation justifies its prohibition, particularly because lawyers have alternative means of conveying necessary information to those who may be in need of legal services. In particular, communications can be mailed or transmitted by email or other electronic means that do not involve real-time contact and do not violate other laws governing solicitations. These forms of communications and solicitations make it possible for the public to be informed about the need for legal services, and about the qualifications of available lawyers and law firms, without subjecting the public to direct in-person, telephone or real-time electronic persuasion that may overwhelm a person’s judgment.

[4] The use of general advertising and written, recorded or electronic communications to transmit information from lawyer to the public, 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 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 7.1. The contents of direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact 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.

[5] There is far less likelihood that a lawyer would engage in abusive practices against a former client, or a person with whom the lawyer has a 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 7.3(a) and the requirements of Rule 7.3(c) are not applicable in those situations. Also, paragraph (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.

[6] But even permitted forms of solicitation can be abused. Thus, any solicitation which contains information which is false or misleading within the meaning of Rule 7.1, which involves coercion, duress, harassment, compulsion, intimidation, or threats within the meaning of Rule 7.3(b)(2), or which involves contact with someone who has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer within the meaning of Rule 7.3(b)(1) is prohibited. Moreover, if after sending a letter or other communication as permitted by Rule 7.2 the lawyer receives no response, any further effort to communicate with the recipient of the communication may violate the provisions of Rule 7.3(b).

[7] This Rule 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 which the lawyer or lawyer’s firm is willing to offer. This form of communication is not directed to people who are seeking legal services for themselves. 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 potential clients of the lawyer. Under these circumstances, the activity which 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 7.2.

[8] Paragraph (c) of this rule requires that all targeted mail solicitations of potential clients must be mailed in an envelope on which the statement, “This is an advertisement for legal services,” appears in capital letters in a font at least as large as any other printing on the front or the back of the envelope. The statement must appear on the front of the envelope with no other distracting extraneous written statements other than the name and address of the recipient and the name and return address of the lawyer or firm. Postcards may not be used for targeted mail solicitations. No embarrassing personal information about the recipient may appear on the back of the envelope. The advertising notice must also appear in the “in reference” or subject box of an electronic communication (email) and at the beginning of any paper or electronic communication in a font that is at least as large as the font used for any other printing in the paper or electronic communication. On any paper or electronic communication required by this rule to contain the advertising notice, the notice must be conspicuous and should not be obscured by other objects or printing or by manipulating fonts. For example, inclusion of a large photograph or graphic image on the communication may diminish the prominence of the advertising notice. Similarly, a font that is narrow or faint may render the advertising notice inconspicuous if the fonts used elsewhere in the communication are chubby or flamboyant. The font size requirement does not apply to a brochure enclosed with the written communication if the written communication contains the required notice. As explained in 2007 Formal Ethics Opinion 15, the font size requirement does not apply to an insignia or border used in connection with a law firm’s name if the insignia or border is used consistently by the firm in official communications on behalf of the firm. Nevertheless, any such insignia or border cannot be so large that it detracts from the conspicuousness of the advertising notice. The requirement that certain communications be marked, “This is an advertisement for legal services,” 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.

[9] See Rule 7.2, cmt. [5] for the definition of “electronic communication(s)” as used in paragraph (c)(2) of this rule. A lawyer may not send electronic or recorded communications if prohibited by law. See, e.g., N.C. Gen. Stat. §75-104; Telephone Consumer Protection Act 47 U.S.C. §227; and 47 CFR 64. “Real-Time electronic contact” as used in paragraph (a) of this rule is distinct from the types of electronic communication identified in Rule 7.2, cmt. [5]. Real-Time electronic contact includes, for example, video telephony (e.g., FaceTime) during which a potential client cannot ignore or delay responding to a communication from a lawyer.

[10] Paragraph (d) of this Rule permits a lawyer to participate with an organization which uses personal contact to solicit members for its group or prepaid legal service plan, provided that the personal contact is not undertaken by any lawyer who would be a provider of legal services through the plan. The organization must not be owned by or directed (whether as manager or otherwise) by any lawyer or law firm that participates in the plan. For example, paragraph (d) would not permit a lawyer to create an organization controlled directly or indirectly by the lawyer and use the organization for the in-person or telephone solicitation of legal employment of the lawyer through memberships in the plan or otherwise. The communication permitted by these organizations also must not be directed to a person known to need legal services in a particular matter, but is to be designed to inform potential plan members generally of another means of affordable legal services. Lawyers who participate in a legal service plan must reasonably assure that the plan sponsors are in compliance with Rule 7.3(d) as well as Rules 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3(b). See 8.4(a).

Rule 7.4 - Communication of Fields of Practice and Specialization

(a) A lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law.

(b) A lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is certified as a specialist in a field of practice unless:

(1) the certification was granted by the North Carolina State Bar;

(2) the certification was granted by an organization that is accredited by the North Carolina State Bar; or

(3) the certification was granted by an organization that is accredited by the American Bar Association under procedures and criteria endorsed by the North Carolina State Bar; and

(4) the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication.

Comment

[1] The use of the word “specialize” in any of its variant forms connotes to the public a particular expertise often subject to recognition by the state. Indeed, the North Carolina State Bar has instituted programs providing for official certification of specialists in certain areas of practice. Certification signifies that an objective entity has recognized an advanced degree of knowledge and experience in the specialty area greater than is suggested by general licensure to practice law. Certifying organizations are expected to apply standards of experience, knowledge and proficiency to insure that a lawyer’s recognition as a specialist is meaningful and reliable. To avoid misrepresentation and deception, a lawyer may not communicate that the lawyer has been recognized or certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, except as provided by this rule. The rule requires that a representation of specialty may be made only if the certifying organization is the North Carolina State Bar, an organization accredited by the North Carolina State Bar, or an organization accredited by the American Bar Association under procedures approved by the North Carolina State Bar. To insure that consumers can obtain access to useful information about an organization granting certification, the name of the certifying organization or agency must be included in any communication regarding the certification.

[2] A lawyer may, however, describe his or her practice without using the term “specialize” in any manner which is truthful and not misleading. This rule specifically permits a lawyer to indicate areas of practice in communications about the lawyer’s services. If a lawyer practices only in certain fields, or will not accept matters except in a specified field or fields, the lawyer is permitted to so indicate. The lawyer may, for instance, indicate a “concentration” or an “interest” or a “limitation.”

[3] Recognition of expertise in patent matters is a matter of long-established policy of the Patent and Trademark Office. 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.

Rule 7.5 - Firm Names and Letterheads

a) A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead, or other professional designation that violates Rule 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 false or misleading in violation of Rule 7.1. Every trade name used by a law firm shall be registered with the North Carolina State Bar for a determination of whether the name is misleading.

(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) A law firm maintaining offices only in North Carolina may not list any person not licensed to practice law in North Carolina as a lawyer affiliated with the firm unless the listing properly identifies the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is licensed and states that the lawyer is not licensed in North Carolina.

(d) 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, whether or not the lawyer is precluded from practicing law.

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

Comment

[1] A firm may be designated by the names of all or some of its members, by the names of deceased or retired 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. Use of trade names in law practice is acceptable so long as they are not misleading and are otherwise in conformance with the rules and regulations of the State Bar. If a private firm uses a trade name that includes a geographical name such as “Springfield Legal Clinic,” an express disclaimer that it is not a public legal aid agency may be required to avoid a misleading implication. A firm name that includes the surname of a deceased or retired principal is, strictly speaking, a trade name. However, the use of such names, as well as designations such as “Law Offices of John Doe,” “Smith and Associates,” and “Jones Law Firm” are useful means of identification and are permissible without registration with the State Bar. However, it is misleading to use the surname of a lawyer not associated with the firm or a predecessor of the firm. It is also misleading to use a designation such as “Smith and Associates” for a solo practice. The name of a retired principal may be used in the name of a law firm only if the principal has ceased the practice of law.

[2] This rule does not prohibit the employment by a law firm of a lawyer who is licensed to practice in another jurisdiction, but not in North Carolina, provided the lawyer’s practice is limited to areas that do not require a North Carolina law license such as immigration law, federal tort claims, military law, and the like. The lawyer’s name may be included in the firm letterhead, provided all communications by such lawyer on behalf of the firm indicate the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is licensed as well as the fact that the lawyer is not licensed in North Carolina. If law offices are maintained in another jurisdiction, the law firm is an interstate law firm and must register with the North Carolina State Bar as required by 27 N.C.A.C. 1E, Section .0200.

[3] Nothing in these rules shall be construed to confer the right to practice North Carolina law upon any lawyer not licensed to practice law in North Carolina. See , however , Rule 5.5.

[4] With regard to paragraph (e), 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 1.6 - Confidentiality of Information

(a) A lawyer shall not reveal information acquired during the professional relationship with 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 paragraph (b).

(b) A lawyer may reveal information protected from disclosure by paragraph (a) to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:

(1) to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct, the law or court order;

(2) to prevent the commission of a crime by the client;

(3) to prevent reasonably certain death or bodily harm;

(4) to prevent, mitigate, or rectify the consequences of a client’s criminal or fraudulent act in the commission of which the lawyer’s services were used;

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

(6) 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;

(7) to comply with the rules of a lawyers’ or judges’ assistance program approved by the North Carolina State Bar or the North Carolina Supreme Court; or

(8) 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 a client.

(d) The duty of confidentiality described in this Rule encompasses information received by a lawyer then acting as an agent of a lawyers’ or judges’ assistance program approved by the North Carolina State Bar or the North Carolina Supreme Court regarding another lawyer or judge seeking assistance or to whom assistance is being offered. For the purposes of this Rule, “client” refers to lawyers seeking assistance from lawyers’ or judges’ assistance programs approved by the North Carolina State Bar or the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Comment

[1] This Rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of information relating to the representation of a client acquired during the lawyer’s representation of the client. See Rule 1.18 for the lawyer’s duties with respect to information provided to the lawyer by a prospective client, Rule 1.9(c)(2) for the lawyer’s duty not to reveal information acquired during a lawyer’s prior representation of a former client, and Rules 1.8(b) and 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 and Rule 8.6 for a lawyer’s duty to disclose information to rectify a wrongful conviction.

[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 acquired during the representation. See Rule 1.0(f) 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, applies not only to matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to all information acquired during 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] Paragraph (a) prohibits a lawyer from revealing information acquired during 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 acquired during the representation of their clients, the confidentiality rule is subject to limited exceptions. In becoming privy to information about a client, a lawyer may foresee that the client intends to commit a crime. Paragraph (b)(2) recognizes that a lawyer should be allowed to make a disclosure to avoid sacrificing the interests of the potential victim in favor of preserving the client’s confidences when the client’s purpose is wrongful. Similarly, paragraph (b)(3) 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 may have been innocently involved in past conduct by a client that was criminal or fraudulent. Even if the involvement was innocent, however, the fact remains that the lawyer’s professional services were made the instrument of the client’s crime or fraud. The lawyer, therefore, has a legitimate interest in being able to rectify the consequences of such conduct, and has the professional right, although not a professional duty, to rectify the situation. Exercising that right may require revealing information acquired during the representation. Paragraph (b)(4) gives the lawyer professional discretion to reveal such information to the extent necessary to accomplish rectification.

[8] Although paragraph (b)(2) does not require the lawyer to reveal the client’s anticipated misconduct, the lawyer may not counsel or assist the client in conduct the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.See Rule 1.2(d). See also Rule 1.16 with respect to the lawyer’s obligation or right to withdraw from the representation of the client in such circumstances. 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, the lawyer may make inquiry within the organization as indicated in Rule 1.13(b).

[9] Paragraph (b)(4) addresses the situation in which the lawyer does not learn of the client’s crime or fraud until after it has been consummated. Although the client no longer has the option of preventing disclosure by refraining from the wrongful conduct, there will be situations in which the loss suffered by the affected person can be prevented, rectified or mitigated. In such situations, the lawyer may disclose information acquired during the representation to the extent necessary to enable the affected persons to prevent or mitigate reasonably certain losses or to attempt to recoup their losses. Paragraph (b)(4) does not apply when a person who has committed a crime or fraud thereafter employs a lawyer for representation concerning that offense.

[10] 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, paragraph (b)(5) permits such disclosure because of the importance of a lawyer’s compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

[11] 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. Paragraph (b)(6) 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.

[12] A lawyer entitled to a fee is permitted by paragraph (b)(6) 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.

[13] Other law may require that a lawyer disclose information about a client. Whether such a law supersedes Rule 1.6 is a question of law beyond the scope of these Rules. When disclosure of information acquired during the representation appears to be required by other law, the lawyer must discuss the matter with the client to the extent required by Rule 1.4. If, however, the other law supersedes this Rule and requires disclosure, paragraph (b)(1) permits the lawyer to make such disclosures as are necessary to comply with the law.

[14] Paragraph (b)(1) also permits compliance with a court order requiring a lawyer to disclose information relating to a client’s representation. If a lawyer is called as a witness to give testimony concerning a client or is otherwise ordered to reveal information relating to the client’s representation, however, the lawyer must, absent informed consent of the client to do otherwise, assert on behalf of the client all nonfrivolous claims 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. See Rule 1.4. Unless review is sought, however, paragraph (b)(1) permits the lawyer to comply with the court’s order.

[15] Paragraph (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.

[16] Paragraph (b) permits but does not require the disclosure of information acquired during a client’s representation to accomplish the purposes specified in paragraphs (b)(1) through (b)(7). In exercising the discretion conferred by this Rule, 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. When practical, the lawyer should first seek to persuade the client to take suitable action, making it unnecessary for the lawyer to make any disclosure. A lawyer’s decision not to disclose as permitted by paragraph (b) does not violate this Rule. Disclosure may be required, however, by other Rules. Some Rules require disclosure only if such disclosure would be permitted by paragraph (b). See Rules 1.2(d), 4.1(b), 8.1 and 8.3. Rule 3.3, on the other hand, requires disclosure in some circumstances regardless of whether such disclosure is permitted by this Rule. See Rule 3.3(c).

Detection of Conflicts of Interest

[17] Paragraph (b)(8) 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 1.17, Comment [8]. 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.

[18] Any information disclosed pursuant to paragraph (b)(8) may be used or further disclosed only to the extent necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest. Paragraph (b)(8) does not restrict the use of information acquired by means independent of any disclosure pursuant to paragraph (b)(8). Paragraph (b)(8) 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. See Comment [5].
Acting Competently to Preserve Confidentiality

[19] Paragraph (c) requires a lawyer to act competently to safeguard information acquired during 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 1.1, 5.1, and 5.3. The unauthorized access to, or the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, information acquired during the professional relationship with 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 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 nonlawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm, see Rule 5.3, Comments [3]-[4].

[20] When transmitting a communication that includes information acquired during 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 client’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 to comply with other law, such as state and federal laws that govern data privacy, is beyond the scope of these Rules.
Former Client

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

[22] Information about a lawyer’s or judge’s misconduct or fitness may be received by a lawyer in the course of that lawyer’s participation in an approved lawyers’ or judges’ assistance program. In that circumstance, providing for the confidentiality of such information encourages lawyers and judges to seek help through such programs. Conversely, without such confidentiality, lawyers and judges may hesitate to seek assistance, which may then result in harm to their professional careers and injury to their clients and the public. The rule, therefore, requires that any information received by a lawyer on behalf of an approved lawyers’ or judges’ assistance program be regarded as confidential and protected from disclosure to the same extent as information received by a lawyer in any conventional client-lawyer relationship.

*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.