Rule Amendment Permits Louisiana Lawyers to Claim “Specialty” Area

SpecialistOn June 2, 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court amended Louisiana Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2(c)(5), to permit a lawyer to claim an area of specialization—as long as the lawyer’s claim does not falsely suggest board certification. Amended Rule 7.2(c) now provides as follows:

(5) Communication of Fields of Practice. A lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law. A lawyer may state that the lawyer is a “specialist,” practices a “specialty,” or “specializes in” particular fields, but such communications are subject to the “false and misleading” standard applied in Rule 7.2(c)(1) to communications concerning a lawyer’s services. A lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is “certified,” or “board certified” [unless the lawyer is certified by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization].

Order Amending Rule 7.2(c), Louisiana Supreme Court (Jun. 2, 2016).

The court’s amendment is sensible and brings Louisiana’s professional conduct standards into line with the ABA Model Rules. Model Rule 7.4 permits a lawyer to state that the lawyer “specializes” in an area of practice–provided that the lawyer does not “state or imply that the lawyer is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law” without formal certification, and provided that the statement is not false or misleading. See ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.4; see id. cmt. 1 (“A lawyer is generally permitted to state that the lawyer is a ‘specialist,’ practices a ‘specialty,’ or ‘specializes in’ particular fields,” provided that the statement is not false or misleading).

Most lawyers who state that they “specialize” in a practice area don’t intend to suggest that the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization, or any other organization, has formally certified them as an “expert” or a “specialist” in a field of practice. On the contrary, most simply use the term “specialize” in its nontechnical sense: “to concentrate one’s efforts in a special activity, field, or practice.” See Merriam-Webster Dictionary (def. “specialized”). As a result of this amendment, the Louisiana Rules now expressly permit such innocuous statements.1

  1. Note than in 2014, the Louisiana Supreme Court dismissed disciplinary charges ODC filed against a New Orleans lawyer who claimed to specialize in admiralty law. See In re Kearney Soniat Du Fossat Loughlin, No. 14-B-0923. ODC claimed that Loughlin violated Louisiana Rule 7.2(c)(1)(B), Louisiana Rule 7.2(c)(5), and former Louisiana Rule 7.4 (as it existed prior to 2009), because his former website stated that he specialized in maritime personal injury cases. Loughlin contended that the website did not claim particular legal expertise or specialization. Instead, he claimed that the site used the word “specializing” to mean that his practice focused on maritime personal injury and death claims. Loughlin also contended that the Louisiana Rules were overbroad, vague, and violated his First Amendment right to free speech. The court found that Loughlin did not act with a culpable state of mind, and that his actions caused no harm to the public.  As a result, it concluded that Loughlin’s actions did not rise to the level of sanctionable conduct, and dismissed all charges against him.