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As advertising gravitates more and more to the Internet, for lawyers as much as other service providers, the state Supreme Court’s Committee on Attorney Advertising is doing its best to adapt its regulatory scheme to the new medium. This year alone, there have been four directives issued on what lawyers may and may not do on the Web, and the most recent puts new restrictions on lawyers’ online listings to ensure that potential clients don’t interpret them as official endorsements. Opinion 36, “Internet Advertising and Disclaiming Impermissible Lawyer Referral Service” says that listings or ads must include wording that they were paid for and that the host is not acting as a referral service. The opinion came in response to an attorney’s inquiry into whether listing his Web page on a site run by a private commercial advertising and marketing enterprise, where the attorney pays a flat fee for the listing and receives an exclusive listing for a particular county in a specific practice area, is permissible under the Rules of Professional Conduct. The committee said yes, if certain language is included. “[W]e conclude that a lawyer who seeks to give anything of value in order to participate in such a listing must, before doing so, ensure that the listing or advertising contains a prominently and unmistakably displayed disclaimer, in a presentation at least equal to the largest and most prominent font and type on the site, declaring that ‘all attorney listings are a paid attorney advertisement, and do not in any way constitute a referral or endorsement by an approved or authorized lawyer referral service,’” the committee said. Including such language will ensure that the ad or listing comports with RPC 7.1, which allows lawyers to pay for advertisements, given certain restrictions, and RPC 7.2, which exempts lawyers from allowing someone else to promote their services if the promoter is operated, sponsored or approved by a bar association. The committee said language that a Web listing does not have a bar association endorsement is needed to protect the public trust. “When advertising is done through a vehicle which is not explicitly referenced as an advertisement, and is not readily known to consumers as a place of pure advertising (as, for example, the Yellow Pages would be), there is a possibility that the presentation and language could lead a reasonably informed consumer to believe that the listing has some sort of professional or authoritative imprimatur, as a kind of endorsement, such as an authorized lawyer referral service might give,” the committee said. It gave a hypothetical example of a lawyer paying to have his or her firm listed on a Web site such as “anti-trustlawyers.com.” The disclaimer must be included if the firm is to be listed on the Web site, the committee said. OTHER QUALIFYING LANGUAGE The ruling is the latest knot in a string of limitations on lawyers’ e-commerce. In November, the committee said in Opinion 35 that lawyers using e-mail to solicit potential clients should tell them to ignore the solicitations if they already are represented by counsel. The committee said including such language would strike a balance between protecting attorneys’ free speech rights and the rights of clients to choose the counsel of their liking without being subjected to undue pressure. In May, the committee issued two other opinions restricting how lawyers can use the Internet. In Opinion 32, the committee said firms can adopt Web addresses describing their practice specialties, such as “njtortlawyers.com,” but may not identify themselves in ads with the Web address in lieu of the firm’s actual name. The committee said Web site naming styles differ from those of common language. Thus, while descriptive names remain off-limits for official firm names, they can be used in domain names, the committee said in partially overruling its own Opinion 10 (1991). There, the committee barred the use of the hypothetical Web name “Accidental Injury firm of Robert Roe.” And in Opinion 33, the committee said firms cannot include in their ads statements from satisfied clients about the effectiveness of the lawyers’ representation. They may, however, use endorsements about the quality of lawyer-client interaction, the committee said. The committee said including statements about the quality of legal representation may create an unjustified expectation about the results a potential client may receive if he or she chooses that particular lawyer.

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