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Several states are revamping their ethics rules to comport with changes the American Bar Association called for three years ago, and some law firms may be surprised to find their advertisements running afoul of new requirements. The upshot of the changes for law firms, which each spend an estimated $200,000 annually on advertising, means that they may need to rework their marketing efforts to comply with the new rules. Whether designing their Web sites or contacting prospective clients by e-mail, firms most likely will discover that the rules of the advertising game are changing. While the revised ABA Rules of Professional Conduct address a wide spectrum of ethical issues, from conflicts of interest to multiple-jurisdictional practices, those focusing on lawyer ads deal with the explosion of advertising opportunities since the rules were first drafted 21 years ago. So far, nine states have approved revisions in some form to mirror modifications made in 2000 to the ABA’s rules. In addition, some 19 other states have issued reports on what changes they will make to their own ethics rules. The ABA rules are nonbinding and serve as guidelines for individual jurisdictions, none of which has adopted all of the ABA’s changes in full. But even for states that have not made any formal rule modifications, lawyer advertising is an issue. In Connecticut, for example, state Chief Justice William Sullivan at the Connecticut Bar Association’s annual meeting in June called for a special committee to look into what he described as “over the top” lawyer advertising. The judge said he was offended by the “misleading images” in TV ads and the “very aggressive representation” by certain lawyers. Formation of the committee is under way, a court spokesman said last week. And in Florida, officials recently banned the use of recognizable celebrities or spokespersons in law firm advertisements, a move inspired by a firm’s ads with actor Robert Vaughn. The state rules also prohibit the use of background noise other than instrumental music, and to require the backdrop to be either a single color or rows of law books. Still other states have relaxed some of the rules. In Ohio, attorneys are discouraged — but not barred — from advertising through unsolicited e-mails to potential clients. In Iowa, attorneys cannot appear in their own ads; in Florida, however, lawyers now are not required to appear in their ads. With a mosaic of rules across the country, national law firms can be particularly vulnerable to violations, said Tom Spahn, a partner at Richmond, Va.-based McGuireWoods. Leigh Jones is a reporter with The National Law Journal , a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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