Lawyer Advertising Opinion
ADVERTISING ON THE INTERNET
A question has been raised as to how the current advertising and solicitation
rules apply to lawyer advertising and solicitation over the Internet.
Opinion: Many thousands
of lawyers regularly use the Internet to communicate and market their services.
The Internet is a global network of computers which send and receive data over
telephone lines and cable. Law firms have websites or "homepages" on the Internet
which convey information about the firm, its lawyers, its areas of practice
and some even provide legal information. A person visiting a law firm's home
page can send electronic mail (e-mail) messages to the law firm or ask questions.
Lawyers can also post advertisements in newsgroups and communicate about their
services in chat rooms.
It is the Committee's opinion that
a Virginia lawyer advertising on the Internet is subject to applicable disciplinary
rules in the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility. Thus, for example,
DR 2-101(A)'s prohibition of advertising which is false, fraudulent, deceptive
or misleading applies to all "public communications" including communications
over the Internet.
The Committee observes that a lawyer's
communications over the Internet are "disseminated to the public by use of electronic
media" for which the lawyer has given value and therefore are subject to the
requirements of DR 2-101(B). This means that a lawyer or law firm that advertises
on the Internet must make and preserve for at least one year a hard copy of
any advertisement posted on the Internet. This includes advertisements in the
form of home pages, postings to bulletin boards, newsgroups, usenets, telnets,
The Committee observes that not all
of the disciplinary rules which apply to lawyer advertising via other media
will apply to lawyer advertising over the Internet, and therefore it may be
necessary for the Committee to issue further opinions on this subject as new
questions arise. However, to the extent that existing rules can be applied to
lawyer advertising over the Internet, lawyers must comply with such rules. Other
jurisdictions have reached the same conclusion. See, e.g., Iowa Ethics
Opinion 95-21 (1996) (lawyers who have home pages must comply with rules on
advertising including publication of required disclaimers); Pennsylvania Ethics
Opinion 96-17 (1996) (communications on the Internet about lawyers' services
are subject to ethics rules regarding advertising); South Carolina Ethics Opinion
94-27 (1995) (lawyer advertising on the Internet is subject to state's rules
Lawyers who communicate on the Internet
in "real time" chat rooms must abide by the restrictions on solicitation set
forth in DR 2-103. "In-person" communication in personal injury and wrongful
death cases is prohibited, subject to certain exceptions, by DR 2-103(F). "In-person"
communications include not only face to face communication but also "telephonic
communication." The Committee believes that a lawyer who solicits employment
in a "real time" chat room may not solicit employment in personal injury or
wrongful death cases by communicating with the victim or their immediate family.
April 14, 1998