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

Comment

[1] This Rule governs all communications about a lawyer’s services, including advertising permitted by RPC 7.2 and solicitations directed to specific recipients permitted by RPC 7.3. 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 RPC 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.

[5] A lawyer may advertise the fact that a subjective characterization or description has been conferred upon him or her by an organization as long as the organization has made inquiry into the lawyer’s fitness and does not issue or confer such designations indiscriminately or for a price.

Rule 7.2 - Advertising

(a) Subject to the requirements of paragraphs (b) through (d) below and RPCs 7.1, 7.3, 7.4, 7.5, and 7.6, a lawyer may advertise services through written, recorded, or electronic communication, including public media.

(b) A copy or recording of each advertisement shall be retained by the lawyer for two years after its last dissemination along with a record of when and where the advertisement appeared.

(c) A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending or publicizing the lawyer’s services except that a lawyer may pay for the following:

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

(2) the usual charges of a registered intermediary organization as permitted by RPC 7.6;

(3) a sponsorship fee or a contribution to a charitable or other non-profit organization in return for which the lawyer will be given publicity as a lawyer; or

(4) a law practice in accordance with RPC 1.17.

(d) Except for communications by registered intermediary organizations, any advertisement shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm assuming responsibility for the communication.

Comment

[1] This Rule governs general advertising through public media and other communications that are not directed to specifically identified individuals. The Rule encompasses all possible media through which such communications may be directed to the public. Communications that are directed to specifically identified recipients are governed by RPC 7.3.

[2] To assist the public in learning about and 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. Further, 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 is significant. Nevertheless, advertising by lawyers shall not contain false or misleading communications about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.

[3] Among other things, 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.

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

Record of Advertising

[5] Paragraph (b) requires that a lawyer retain a copy or recording of any advertisement for two years after its last dissemination along with a record of when and where the advertisement appeared. If advertisements that are similar in all material respects are published or displayed more than once or distributed to more than one person, the lawyer may comply with this requirement by retaining a single copy of the advertisement for two years after the last of the materially similar advertisements are disseminated. A lawyer may comply with the requirement of paragraph (b) by complying with guidelines that may be adopted by the Board of Professional Responsibility concerning certain types of advertisements, including websites, e-mail, or other electronic forms of communication or of changes to such communications.

Paying Others to Recommend a Lawyer

[6] A lawyer is allowed to pay for advertising permitted by this Rule and for the purchase of a law practice in accordance with the provisions of RPC 1.17, but otherwise is not permitted to pay another person for channeling professional work to the lawyer. 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. Paragraph (c) does not prohibit paying regular compensation to an assistant, such as a secretary, to prepare communications permitted by this Rule.

[7] 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 RPCs 1.5(e) (division of fees) and 5.4 (professional independence of the lawyer), the lead generator’s communications are consistent with RPC 7.1 (communications concerning a lawyer’s services), and subject to RPC 7.6 and Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 44 if the lead generator qualifies as an intermediary organization pursuant to RPC 7.6. To comply with RPC 7.1, a lawyer must not pay a lead generator that states, implies, or creates a reasonable 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 RPC 5.3 (duties of lawyers and law firms with respect to the conduct of nonlawyers); RPC 8.4(a) (duty to avoid violating the Rules through the acts of another).

Rule 7.3 - Solicitation of Potential Clients

(a) A lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment from a potential client 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; or

(3) has initiated a contact 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, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (a), if:

(1) the potential client has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer; or

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

(3) a significant motive for the solicitation is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain and the communication concerns an action for personal injury, divorce or legal separation, worker’s compensation, wrongful death, or otherwise relates to an accident, filing of divorce or legal separation, or disaster involving the person to whom the communication is addressed or a member of that person’s family, unless the accident, filing of divorce or legal separation, or disaster occurred more than thirty (30) days prior to the mailing or transmission of the communication or the lawyer has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the person solicited.

(c) If a significant motive for the solicitation is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain, a lawyer shall not send a written, recorded, or electronic communication soliciting professional employment from a specifically identified recipient who is not a person specified in paragraphs (a)(1) or (a)(2) or (a)(3), unless the communication complies with the following requirements:

(1) The words “Advertising Material” appear on the outside of the envelope, if any, in which a communication is sent and at the beginning and ending of any written, recorded or electronic communication.

(2) A lawyer shall not state or imply that a communication otherwise permitted by these rules has been approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court or the Board of Professional Responsibility.

(3) If a contract for representation is mailed with the communication, the top of each page of the contract shall be marked “SAMPLE” and the words “DO NOT SIGN” shall appear on the client signature line.

(4) Written communications shall not be in the form of or include legal pleadings or other formal legal documents.

(5) Communications delivered to potential clients shall be sent only by regular U.S. mail and not by registered, certified, or other forms of restricted delivery, or by express delivery or courier.

(6) Any communication seeking employment by a specific potential client in a specific matter shall comply with the following additional requirements:

(i) The communication shall disclose how the lawyer obtained the information prompting the communication;

(ii) The subject matter of the proposed representation shall not be disclosed on the outside of the envelope (or self-mailing brochure) in which the communication is delivered; and

(iii) The first sentence of the communication shall state, “IF YOU HAVE ALREADY HIRED OR RETAINED A LAWYER IN THIS MATTER, PLEASE DISREGARD THIS MESSAGE.”

(7) A copy of each written, audio, video, or electronically transmitted communication sent to a specific recipient under this Rule shall be retained by the lawyer for two years after its last dissemination along with a record of when, and to whom, it was sent.

(d) Unless the contents thereof include a solicitation of employment, a lawyer need not comply with the requirements of paragraph (c) above when sending announcements of an association or affiliation with another lawyer that complies with the requirements of RPC 7.5, newsletters, brochures, and other similar communications.

Comment

[1] A solicitation is a targeted 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 a potential client known to need legal services. These forms of contact between a lawyer and a potential client subject the layperson to the private importuning of the trained advocate in a direct interpersonal encounter. The potential client, 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 overreaching. The restrictions set forth in this Rule, however, do not apply to efforts by a lawyer to get hired as an in-house counsel by a potential client.

[3] This potential for abuse inherent in direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic solicitation of potential clients justifies its prohibition, particularly since lawyer advertising and written and recorded communication permitted under this Rule offer alternative means of conveying necessary information to potential clients who may be in need of legal services. Advertising and written and recorded communications which may be mailed or electronically transmitted make it possible for a potential client to be informed about the need for legal services, and about the qualifications of available lawyers and law firms, without subjecting the potential client to direct in-person, live 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 potential 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 direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic conversations between a lawyer and a potential 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.

[5] There is far less likelihood that a lawyer would engage in abusive practices against an individual with whom the lawyer has a family, close personal, or prior professional 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 RPC 7.3(a) and the requirements of RPC 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 that contains information which is false or misleading within the meaning of RPC 7.1, which involves coercion, duress, fraud, harassment, intimidation, overreaching, or undue influence, which involves contact with someone who has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer, or which occurs within thirty (30) days after an accident or disaster involving the individual or a member of the individual’s family, is prohibited by RPC 7.3(b). Moreover, if after sending a letter or other communication as permitted by RPC 7.2 the lawyer receives no response, any further effort to communicate with the potential client may violate the provisions of RPC 7.3(b)(1). Communications directed to specifically identified recipients must be identified as advertisements, may need to be marked with other disclaimers, and cannot be formatted or delivered in such a manner as to mislead the recipient about the nature of the communication.

[6A] RPC 7.3(b)(3) includes a prohibition against any solicitation of a prospective client within thirty (30) days of the filing of a complaint for divorce or legal separation involving that person, if a significant motive for the solicitation is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain. Some divorce or legal separation cases involve either an alleged history of domestic violence or a potential for domestic violence. In such cases, a defendant spouse’s receipt of a lawyers’ solicitation prior to being served with the complaint can increase the risk of a violent confrontation between the parties before the statutory injunctions take effect. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-106(d) (2014) (imposing specified temporary injunctions, including “[a}n injunction restraining both parties from harassing, threatening, assaulting or abusing the other,” that take effect “[u]pon the filing of a petition for divorce or legal separation, and upon personal service of the complaint and summons on the respondent or upon waiver and acceptance of service by the respondent”) (emphasis added). The prohibition in RPC 7.3(b)(3) against any solicitation within thirty (30) days of the filing of a complaint for divorce or legal separation is intended to reduce any such risk and to allow the plaintiff spouse in such cases to take appropriate steps to seek shelter, an order of protection and/or any other relief that might be available.

[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 if the lawyer’s purpose is to inform such entities of the lawyer’s willingness to cooperate with the plan in compliance with RPC 7.6. This form of communication is not directed to a potential 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 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 RPC 7.2.

[8] The requirement in RPC 7.3(c) that certain communications be marked as advertisements and contain other disclaimers do not apply to communications sent in response to requests of potential clients or their spokespersons or sponsors. Nor do those requirements apply to general announcements by lawyers, including changes in personnel or office location, newsletters, brochures, and other similar communications which do not contain a solicitation of professional employment.

[9] Paragraph (c)(6) requires that a lawyer retain a copy of each written, audio, video, or electronically transmitted communication sent to a specific recipient under this Rule for two years after its last dissemination along with a record of the name of the person contacted and the person’s address, telephone number, or telecommunication address to which the communication was sent. If communications identical in content are sent to two or more persons, the lawyer may comply with this requirement by retaining a single copy of the communication together with a list of the names and addresses of the persons to whom the communications were sent.

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) Except as permitted by paragraphs (c) and (d), a lawyer shall not state that the lawyer is a specialist, specializes, or is certified or recognized as a specialist in a particular field of law.

(c) 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.

(d) A lawyer who has been certified as a specialist in a field of law by an organization accredited by the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates, and who has registered such certification with the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education, may state that the lawyer “is certified as a specialist in [field of law] by [accredited organization].”

Comment

[1] This Rule 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.

[2] However, a lawyer may not communicate that the lawyer is a “specialist,” practices a “specialty,” “specializes in” a particular field, or that the lawyer has been recognized or certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, except as provided by this Rule. Recognition of specialization in patent matters is a matter of long-established policy of the Patent and Trademark Office, as reflected in paragraph (c).

[3] Paragraph (d) permits a lawyer to communicate that the lawyer is a specialist or has been certified or recognized as a specialist when the lawyer has been so certified or recognized by an organization accredited by the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates. However, before a lawyer may communicate that the lawyer is a specialist, the lawyer must first register the specialty certification with the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 21. A lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer has received any certification of specialty from the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education.

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. 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 RPC 7.1.

(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.

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. 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 not 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 or retired 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, or the name of a nonlawyer.

[2] Paragraph (c) does not require a change in a law firm’s name or letterhead when a member of the firm interrupts his or her practice to serve, for example, as an elected member of the Tennessee General Assembly so long as the lawyer reasonably expects to resume active and regular practice with the firm at the end of the legislative session. Such a hiatus from practice is not for a substantial period of time. If, however, a lawyer were to curtail his or her practice and enter public service for a longer or indefinite period of time, the lawyer’s firm would have to alter its name and letterhead.

[3] With regard to paragraph (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 7.6 - Intermediary Organizations

(a) An intermediary organization is a lawyer-advertising cooperative, lawyer referral service, prepaid legal insurance provider, or a similar organization the business or activities of which include the referral of its customers, members, or beneficiaries to lawyers for the performance of fee-generating legal services or the payment for or provision of legal services to the organization’s customers, members, or beneficiaries in matters for which the organization does not bear ultimate responsibility. A tribunal appointing or assigning lawyers to represent parties before the tribunal or a government agency performing such functions on behalf of a tribunal is not an intermediary organization under this Rule.

(b) A lawyer shall not seek or accept a referral of a client, or compensation for representing a client, from an intermediary organization if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that:

(1) the organization:

(i) is owned or controlled by the lawyer, a law firm with which the lawyer is associated, or a lawyer with whom the lawyer is associated in a firm; or

(ii) is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law; or

(iii) engages in marketing activities that are false or misleading or are otherwise prohibited by the Board of Professional Responsibility; or

(iv) has not registered with the Board of Professional Responsibility and complied with all requirements imposed by the Board; or

(2) the lawyer will be unable to represent the client in compliance with these Rules.

Comment

[1] For there to be equal access to justice, there must be equal access to lawyers. For there to be equal access to lawyers, potential clients must be able to find lawyers and have the economic resources needed to pay the lawyers a reasonable fee for their services. In an effort to assist prospective clients to find and be able to retain competent lawyers, lawyers and nonlawyers alike have formed a variety of organizations designed to bring clients and lawyers together and to provide a vehicle through which the lawyers can be fairly compensated and the clients can afford the services they need. Some of these intermediary organizations operate as charities. Others operate as businesses. Because they ultimately bear the liability of their insureds, liability insurance companies that pay for or otherwise provide lawyers to defend their insureds are not intermediary organizations within the meaning of this Rule. Because the concerns arising from the referral of fee-generating business to lawyers are not implicated by the referral of a matter for which the lawyer does not expect to be paid a fee, the referral of such matters is exempted from this Rule. Similarly, the process by which tribunals or court agencies appoint or assign lawyers to represent parties should carry with it appropriate safeguards outside of this Rule, and these activities are likewise exempted from this Rule.

[2] The requirements set forth in paragraph (b) are intended to protect the clients who are represented by lawyers to whom they have been referred or assigned by an intermediary organization. It is the responsibility of each lawyer who would participate in the activities of an intermediary organization to act reasonably to ascertain that the organization meets the standards set forth in paragraph (b). Normally it will be sufficient for the lawyer to ascertain that the organization is registered with the Board of Professional Responsibility and to review the materials the organization has filed with the Board in compliance with the Board’s reporting requirements. If, however, by virtue of his or her participation in the activities of an intermediary organization, a lawyer comes to know that the organization does not meet the standards set forth in paragraph (b), the lawyer shall terminate his or her participation in the activities of the organization and should so advise the Board of Professional Responsibility.

Rule 1.6 - Confidentiality of Information

(a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless:

(1) the client gives informed consent;

(2) the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation; or

(3) the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b) or required by paragraph (c).

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

(1) to prevent the client or another person from committing a crime, including a crime that is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial interest or property of another, unless disclosure is prohibited or restricted by RPC 3.3;

(2) to prevent the client from committing a fraud that is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another and in furtherance of which the client has used or is using the lawyer’s services, unless disclosure is prohibited or restricted by RPC 3.3;

(3) to prevent, mitigate, or rectify substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another that is reasonably certain to result or has resulted from the client’s commission of a fraud in furtherance of which the client has used the lawyer’s services, unless disclosure is prohibited or restricted by RPC 3.3;

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

(5) 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; or

(6) 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 reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes disclosure is necessary:

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

(2) to comply with an order of a tribunal requiring disclosure, but only if ordered to do so by the tribunal after the lawyer has asserted on behalf of the client all non-frivolous claims that the information sought by the tribunal is protected against disclosure by the attorney-client privilege or other applicable law; or

(3) to comply with RPC 3.3, 4.1, or other law.

(d) 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

[1] This Rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of information relating to the representation of a client during the lawyer’s representation of the client. See RPC 1.18 for the lawyer’s duties with respect to information provided to the lawyer by a prospective client, RPC 1.9(c) for the lawyer’s duty not to reveal information relating to the lawyer’s prior representation of a former client and RPCs 1.8(b) and 1.9(c) 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 RPC 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, applies not only 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.

[3a] The requirement of maintaining confidentiality of information relating to representation applies to government lawyers who may disagree with the policy goals that their representation is designed to advance.

[3b] Information made confidential by this Rule does not include what a lawyer learns about the law, legal institutions such as courts and administrative agencies, and similar public matters in the course of representing clients. For example, during legal research of an issue while representing a client, a lawyer may discover a particularly important precedent, devise a novel legal approach, or learn the preferable way to frame an argument before a particular judge that is useful both in the immediate matter and in other representation. Such information is part of the general fund of information available to the lawyer.

[4] Paragraph (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 disclosure of information in a way that cannot reasonably be linked to the client does not reveal information relating to the representation of a client in violation of this Rule. For example, a lawyer’s use of hypotheticals 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.

[4a] Unless there is a reasonable likelihood of adverse effect to the client, this Rule does not prohibit a lawyer from disclosing information relating to representation of a client for purposes of providing professional assistance to other lawyers, whether informally, as in educational conversations among lawyers, or more formally, as in continuing-legal-education lectures. Thus, a lawyer may generally confer with another lawyer (whether or not in the same firm) concerning an issue in which the disclosing lawyer has gained experience through representing a client in order to assist the other lawyer in representing that lawyer’s own clients.

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. For example, paragraph (b)(1) permits the lawyer to reveal information to the extent necessary to enable affected persons or appropriate authorities to prevent the client from committing a crime.

[7] Paragraph (b)(2) is another limited exception to the rule of confidentiality that permits disclosure to the extent necessary to prevent the client from perpetrating a fraud, as defined in RPC 1.0(d), but only if the fraud is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial or property interests of another and the client has used or is using the lawyer’s services in furtherance of the fraud. Such a serious abuse of the client-lawyer relationship by the client forfeits the protection of this Rule. The client can, of course, prevent such disclosure by refraining from the wrongful conduct. Although paragraphs (b)(1) and (b)(2) do not require the lawyer to reveal the client’s misconduct, the lawyer may not counsel or assist the client in conduct the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent. See RPC 1.2(d). See RPC 1.16 with respect to the lawyer’s obligation or right to withdraw from the representation of the client in such circumstances, and RPC 1.13(c), which permits the lawyer, where the client is an organization, to reveal information relating to the representation in limited circumstances. In addition, where the client is an organization, the lawyer may be in doubt whether contemplated conduct will actually be carried out by the organization’s constituents. Where necessary to guide conduct in connection with this Rule, the lawyer may make inquiry within the organization as indicated in RPC 1.13(b). RPC 3.3, rather than paragraphs (b)(1) and (b)(2) of this Rule, governs disclosure of a client’s intention to commit perjury or other crimes in connection with an adjudicative proceeding.

[8] Paragraph (b)(3) addresses the situation in which a crime in furtherance of which a client has used a lawyer’s services 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 relating to 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)(3) does not apply when a person who has committed a crime or fraud thereafter employs a lawyer for representation concerning that offense.

[9] 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)(4) permits such disclosure because of the importance of a lawyer’s compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct. For the protection of the client, such disclosures may be made only if they will be protected by the attorney-client privilege.

[10] 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 brought by the lawyer involving the conduct or representation of a former client, such as when in-house counsel brings suit to redress his or her discharge from an organizational employer in retaliation for abiding by, or refusing to violate, a clear expression of public policy in the Rules of Professional Conduct. See also RPC 1.16, Comment [4]. 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)(5) 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. Where practicable and not prejudicial to the lawyer’s ability to establish the defense, the lawyer should advise the client of the third party’s assertion and request that the client respond appropriately.

[11] A lawyer entitled to a fee is permitted by paragraph (b)(5) to prove the services rendered in a proceeding 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.

[12] Other law may require that a lawyer disclose information about a client. Whether such a law supersedes RPC 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 RPC 1.4. If, however, the other law supersedes this Rule and requires disclosure, paragraph (c)(3) requires the lawyer to make such disclosures as are necessary to comply with the law.

Detection of Conflicts of Interest

[13] Paragraph (b)(6) 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 RPC 1.17, Comment [7]. 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.

[14] Any information disclosed pursuant to paragraph (b)(6) may be used or further disclosed only to the extent necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest. Paragraph (b)(6) does not restrict the use of information acquired by means of independent of any disclosure pursuant to paragraph (b)(6). Paragraph (b)(6) 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.

[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 proceeding of a tribunal, 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 relating to a client’s representation to accomplish the purposes specified in paragraphs (b)(1) through (b)(5). 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 any other factors that may extenuate the conduct in question. 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, e.g., RPCs 8.1 and 8.3. RPC 3.3, on the other hand, requires disclosure in some circumstances regardless of whether such disclosure is permitted by this Rule. See RPC 3.3(h) and (i). Also, in some circumstances, RPCs 4.1(b) and (c) require disclosure of the lawyer’s withdrawal from the representation of a client and disaffirmation of written materials prepared for the client.

Disclosure Otherwise Required or Authorized

[17a] Paragraph (c)(1) recognizes the overriding value of life and physical integrity and requires disclosure reasonably necessary to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm. Substantial bodily harm includes life-threatening and debilitating illnesses and the consequences of child sexual abuse. Such harm is reasonably certain to occur if such injuries will be suffered imminently or if there is a present and substantial threat that a person will suffer such injuries 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 must 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.

[17b] A lawyer might be called as a witness to give testimony concerning a client or might 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 nonfrivolous 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 RPC 1.4. Unless review is sought, however, paragraph (c)(2) permits the lawyer to comply with the court’s order.

Acting Competently to Preserve Confidentiality

[18] Paragraph (d) 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 RPCs 1.1, 5.1, and 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(d) 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 nonlawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm, see RPC 5.3, Comments [3]-[4].

[19] 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

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

Rule SB 0352 - Consumer Protection

This bill prohibits any person that advertises legal services or identifies potential clients for attorneys or law firms from doing any of the following in a legal advertisement:

(1) Fail to disclose that the advertisement is a paid advertisement for legal services;

(2) Present a legal advertisement as a “medical alert,” “health alert,” “consumer alert,” “public service announcement,” or other similar language;

(3) Display the logo of a federal or state government agency in a manner that suggests an affiliation with or the sponsorship by that agency;

(4) Use the word “recall” to refer to a product that has not been recalled by a government agency or through an agreement between a manufacturer and government agency;

(5) Fail to identify the person responsible for the advertisement; or

(6) Fail to identify the attorney or law firm that will represent clients, or to disclose that cases may be referred to another attorney or law firm to represent clients if the advertisement’s sponsor does not represent persons responding to the legal advertisement.

This bill prohibits the use of a legal advertisement to solicit clients who may allege an injury from a prescription drug or medical device approved, cleared, or the subject of a drug monograph authorized by the United States food and drug administration unless the legal advertisement also includes the information required in this bill. A legal advertisement soliciting clients who may allege an injury from a prescription drug approved, cleared, or the subject of a drug monograph authorized by the United States food and drug administration must:

(1) Include the following warning: “Do not stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting with your doctor. Discontinuing a prescribed medication without your doctor’s advice can result in injury or death."; and

(2) Disclose that the drug or medical device remains approved by the United States food and drug administration, unless the product has been recalled by a government agency or through an agreement between a manufacturer and government agency.

This bill makes it a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for up to 11 months and 29 days for a person to willfully and knowingly use, cause to be used, obtain, sell, transfer, or disclose protected health information to another person for the purpose of soliciting an individual for legal services without written authorization from the individual who is the subject of the information. This bill makes it a Class C felony offense punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and imprisonment for not less than three years nor more than 10 years, for a person to willfully and knowingly use, cause to be used, obtain, sell, transfer, or disclose protected health information to another person for the purpose of soliciting an individual for legal services without written authorization from the individual who is the subject of the information with the intent to use, cause to be used, obtain, sell, transfer, or disclose protected health information for the purpose of financial gain. This bill specifies that the two criminal offenses described in this paragraph do not apply to the use or disclosure of protected health information to an individual’s legal representative in the course of any judicial or administrative proceeding, or as otherwise permitted or required by law.

Any violation of this bill will constitute an unfair or deceptive act or practice affecting trade or commerce and will be subject to the penalties and remedies provided in the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977. Generally, a violation of the Act is a Class B misdemeanor and a person harmed by a violation may recover damages, including treble damages for an intentional violation.

This bill specifies that it does not affect the authority of the Tennessee Supreme Court to regulate the practice of law, enforce the Rules of Professional Conduct, or discipline persons admitted to the bar.

ON MARCH 21, 2019, THE HOUSE SUBSTITUTED SENATE BILL 352 FOR HOUSE BILL 352, ADOPTED AMENDMENT #1, AND PASSED SENATE BILL 352, AS AMENDED.

AMENDMENT #1 specifies that this bill does not create or imply liability on behalf of a broadcaster who holds a license for over-the-air terrestrial broadcasting from the federal communication commission, or against a cable operator.

*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.