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Online Legal Marketing: ABA Proposes Rule Changes

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

Acknowledging the impact of technology on the legal profession and the sharing of potentially confidential information, the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 released its draft recommendations for online legal marketing and contact with prospective and potential clients last week.

Instead of revamping the rules entirely and imposing new restrictions, the ABA Journal reports that the commission felt that lawyers could simply use more guidance on how new technology fits within the confines of existing legal ethics rules.

The proposed amendments and revisions to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct focus on Rules 1.18 (Duties to Prospective Clients), 7.2 (Advertising), and 7.3 (Direct Contact with Prospective Clients).

For Rule 1.18, which deals with the use and disclosure of information provided by a prospective client, the commission seeks to expand the persons to which an attorney owes such a duty. They have recommended that "prospective client" includes anyone with a reasonable expectation of forming an attorney-client relationship.

Proposed revisions to Rule 7.2 deal primarily with online legal marketing, with additions to the rule's commentary explaining how electronic communications and pay-per-click ads relate to the prohibition on paid referrals.

The commission seeks to replace "prospective" with "potential" in Rule 7.3, which covers direct contact with persons who are not yet clients. This would expand the rule's coverage to contact with anyone with which an attorney has had no prior contact.

Rule 7.3 would also clarify what constitutes a solicitation for the purposes of online legal marketing.

If you'd like to comment on these proposed revisions, or have insights on how the existing rules could be changed to better suit the use of online legal marketing, you have until August 31 to contact the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility.

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