Professional Guidelines

An agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia

The Virginia State Bar

Professional Guidelines

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 contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact when omission of such fact makes the statement materially false or misleading as a whole.
     
  • (b) A communication violates this rule if it advertises specific or cumulative case results, without a disclaimer that (i) puts the case results in a context that is not misleading; (ii) states that case results depend upon a variety of factors unique to each case; and (iii) further states that case results do not guarantee or predict a similar result in any future case undertaken by the lawyer. The disclaimer shall precede the communication of the case results. When the communication is in writing, the disclaimer shall be in bold type face and uppercase letters in a font size that is at least as large as the largest text used to advertise the specific or cumulative case results and in the same color and against the same colored background as the text used to advertise the specific or cumulative case results.
  • (c) Any advertising pursuant to this Rule shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer responsible for its content; or, in the alternative, a law firm may file with the Virginia State Bar a current written statement identifying the lawyer responsible for the law firm’s advertising and its office address. The law firm shall promptly update the written statement if there is any change in status.
  • (d) A lawyer shall timely respond to and fully cooperate with any requests for information by Ethics Counsel regarding the lawyer’s advertising.

Comment

[1] This Rule governs all communications about a lawyer’s services, including advertising.  The purpose of lawyer advertising is to promote or propose the hiring of the lawyer. Communications about a lawyer’s services are statements or claims made about the lawyer or lawyer’s services that are intended, in whole or in part, to inform others about the availability of the lawyer’s services. Communications through public media as well as communications targeted to one or more persons are subject to this Rule.  This Rule is not intended to regulate forms of non-commercial speech by lawyers such as political or religious commentary.  Whatever means are used to communicate regarding a lawyer’s services, statements about them must be truthful and not misleading. A statement or claim is misleading if it is likely to mislead the public or a prospective client. For example, a statement that “you pay nothing unless we win” is false and misleading if the client is held responsible for payment or reimbursement of costs or expenses related to the client’s case, as required by Rule 1.8(e). Similarly, a statement or claim that a lawyer handles a particular type of case, i.e., products liability, is false and misleading if the lawyer does not practice in that area of law and the lawyer’s only involvement is to intake the client and then refer the client to another lawyer outside the firm.


[2] Advertisements and other communications about a lawyer or a lawyer’s services that are not false or misleading will make it apparent that the necessity and advisability of legal action depends on variant factors that must be evaluated individually. Due to fee information that may frequently be incomplete and misleading to a layperson, a lawyer should exercise great care that fee information is complete and accurate. Due to the individuality of each legal problem, statements regarding average, minimum, or estimated fees may be misleading, as will commercial publicity conveying information as to results previously achieved, general or average solutions, or expected outcomes. It would be misleading to advertise a set fee for a specific type of case without adhering to the stated fee in charging clients. Advertisements or other claims that convey an impression that the ingenuity of the lawyer, rather than the justice of the claim is determinative are similarly likely to be misleading.  Advertising and other communications stating specific or aggregate case results should disclose the impossibility of assuring any particular result. Not only must a communication be truthful, but its meaning must be capable of being understood by the reasonably prudent layperson.

[3] 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. A good example of a truthful statement that is misleading by omission of a material fact is the statement “We won a $2 million verdict in this case” when in fact the verdict had been overturned by the court. The omission of that key fact makes the statement itself misleading.

[4] A statement or claim that an outcome was not or will not be related to the facts or merits of the particular matter is false or misleading and, therefore, improper.  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. Further, any statement or claim that is likely to create an unjustified expectation about the results the lawyer can achieve is misleading. The inclusion of the disclaimer required by paragraph (b)of this Rule is necessary to avoid creating unjustified expectations or misleading a potential client.  The required disclaimer must precede each and every statement of specific or cumulative case results.

[5] 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.

[6] Statements or claims made by others about the lawyer’s services are governed by this rule if the lawyer adopts them in his or her communications. See also Rule 8.4(a) regarding violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct through the agency of another.

[7] This Rule permits public dissemination of information concerning, for example, a lawyer’s name or firm name, address, 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.

Committee Commentary

The Committee has revised Rules 7.1-7.5 in their entirety.  Rule 7.2 has been eliminated and relevant parts of Rule 7.2 regarding lawyer advertising are incorporated within Rule 7.1 as that Rule covers all communications including lawyer advertising; relevant parts of Rule 7.2 regarding solicitation and paying others to recommend a lawyer have been incorporated within Rule 7.3.

The amendments effective July 1, 2013, rewrote the Rule and commentary.

Updated: June 26, 2013