The Awful, No Good, Rule 7.2

My last couple posts have referred to Model Rule 7.2, and the ABA Ethics Committee’s inexplicable unwillingness to consign it to the dustbin of history. But while I have complained about this benighted Rule, perhaps I haven’t gone deep enough on why it needs to unceremoniously kicked to the curb.

Rule 7.2 is the “specific restrictions on lawyer advertising” rule. And it actually has its origins in the days before lawyers COULD advertise. The core of the Rule┬ápredates Bates v. Arizona, the seminal 1977 case that found that lawyers have a First Amendment right to advertise. 1 And pre-Bates, it stood for the proposition that lawyers could not advertise:

A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services.

Instead of recognizing Bates for the sea change that it was and canning this Rule, the Bars simply added a begrudging caveat to it:

A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services except that a lawyer may

(1) pay the reasonable costs of advertisements or communications permitted by this Rule;

(2) pay the usual charges of a legal service plan or a not-for-profit or qualified lawyer referral service.

The result is predictable: endless lawyerly hand-wringing over whether a statement is a “recommendation,” whether the cost paid for an ad is “reasonable,” or whether a form of advertising is “qualified” and/or a “lawyer referral service.” Avvo has dealt with ALL of these “concerns,” via state bar ethics opinions, with respect to Avvo Legal Services alone.

And it’s all a complete waste of time. The purpose of these rules is to protect the public, not to enable academic debate about whether a rating is a recommendation. The types of activities that the vague language of the Rule are really getting at are those that are already covered by Rule 7.1: false and misleading advertising. Any marketing transgressions that could constitutionally be prohibited by Rule 7.2 are also prohibited by Rule 7.1. So Rule 7.2 doesn’t add any weapons to the Bar’s enforcement arsenal; it just drives over-compliance and makes it harder for the public to get information about legal services.

A rule that serves no purpose other than to work cross-purposes to its stated intent? That’s a rule that should be eliminated – and with haste.

Notes:

  1. Equally important to the decision in Bates was that consumers have a First Amendment right to receive information about legal services. Unduly restricting the free flow of information – including information provided via advertising – compromises these rights.

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