The following shall apply to any communication conveying information about a lawyer, a lawyer’s services or a law firm’s services:
(a) Required Content of Advertisements and Unsolicited Written Communications.
(1) Name of Lawyer. All advertisements and unsolicited written communications pursuant to these Rules shall include the name of at least one lawyer responsible for their content.
(2) Location of Practice. All advertisements and unsolicited written communications provided for under these Rules shall disclose, by city or town, one or more bona fide office location(s) of the lawyer or lawyers who will actually perform the services advertised. If the office location is outside a city or town, the parish where the office is located must be disclosed. For the purposes of this Rule, a bona fide office is defined as a physical location maintained by the lawyer or law firm where the lawyer or law firm reasonably expects to furnish legal services in a substantial way on a regular and continuing basis, and which physical location shall have at least one lawyer who is regularly and routinely present in that physical location. In the absence of a bona fide office, the lawyer shall disclose the city or town of the primary registration statement address as it appears on the lawyer’s annual registration statement. If an advertisement or unsolicited written communication lists a telephone number in connection with a specified geographic area other than an area containing a bona fide office or the lawyer’s primary registration statement address, appropriate qualifying language must appear in the advertisement.
(3) The following items may be used without including the content required by subdivisions (a)(l) and (a)(2) of this Rule 7.2:
(A) Sponsorships. A brief announcement in any public media that identifies a lawyer or law firm as a contributor to a specified charity or as a sponsor of a public service announcement or a specified charitable, community, or public interest program, activity, or event, provided that the announcement contains no information about the lawyer or the law firm other than permissible content of advertisements listed in Rule 7.2(b) and the fact of the sponsorship or contribution, in keeping with Rule 7.8(b);
(B) Gift/Promotional Items. Items, such as coffee mugs, pens, pencils, apparel, and the like, that identity a lawyer or law firm and are used/disseminated by a lawyer or law firm not in violation of these Rules, including but not limited to Rule 7.2(c)(13) and Rule 7.4; and
(C) Office Sign(s) for Bona Fide Office Location(s). A sign, placard, lettering, mural, engraving, carving or other alphanumeric display conveying information about a lawyer, a lawyer’s services or a law firm’s services that is permanently affixed, hanging, erected or otherwise attached to the physical structure of the building containing a bona fide office location for a lawyer or law firm, or to the property on which that bona fide office location sits.
(b) Permissible Content of Advertisements and Unsolicited Written Communications. If the content of an advertisement in any public media or unsolicited written communication is limited to the following information, the advertisement or unsolicited written communication is exempt from the filing and review requirement and, if true, shall be presumed not to be misleading or deceptive.
(1) Lawyers and Law Firms. A lawyer or law firm may include the following information in advertisements and unsolicited written communications:
(A) subject to the requirements of this Rule and Rule 7.10, the name of the lawyer or law firm, a listing of lawyers associated with the firm, office locations and parking arrangements, disability accommodations, telephone numbers, Web site addresses, and electronic mail addresses, office and telephone service hours, and a designation such as “attorney”, “lawyer” or “law firm”;
(B) date of admission to the Louisiana State Bar Association and any other bars, current membership or positions held in the Louisiana State Bar Association, its sections or committees, former membership or positions held in the Louisiana State Bar Association, its sections or committees, together with dates of membership, former positions of employment held in the legal profession, together with dates the positions were held, years of experience practicing law, number of lawyers in the advertising law firm, and a listing of federal courts and jurisdictions other than Louisiana where the lawyer is licensed to practice;
(C) technical and professional licenses granted by the State or other recognized licensing authorities and educational degrees received, including dates and institutions;
(D) military service, including branch and dates of service;
(E) foreign language ability;
(F) fields of law in which the lawyer practices, including official certification logos, subject to the requirements of subdivision (c)(5) of this Rule;
(G) prepaid or group legal service plans in which the lawyer participates;
(H) fee for initial consultation and fee schedule, subject to the requirements of subdivisions (c)(6) and (c)(7) of this Rule;
(I) common salutatory language such as “best wishes,” “good luck,” “happy holidays,” or “pleased to announce”;
(J) punctuation marks and common typographical marks; and
(K) a photograph or image of the lawyer or lawyers who are members of or employed by the firm against a plain background.
(2) Public Service Announcements. A lawyer or law firm may be listed as a sponsor of a public service announcement or charitable, civic, or community program or event as long as the information about the lawyer or law firm is limited to the permissible content set forth in subdivision (b)(1) of this Rule.
(c) Prohibitions and General Rules Governing Content of Advertisements and Unsolicited Written Communications.
(1) Statements About Legal Services. A lawyer shall not make or permit to be made a false, misleading or deceptive communication about the lawyer, the lawyer’s services or the law firm’s services. A communication violates this Rule if it:
(A) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law;
(B) is false, misleading or deceptive;
(C) fails to disclose material information necessary to prevent the information supplied from being false, misleading or deceptive;
[(D) contains a reference or testimonial to past successes or results obtained, except as allowed in the Rule regulating information about a lawyer’s services provided upon request]1;
Pursuant to Louisiana Supreme Court order dated April 27, 2011, the enforcement of Rule 7.2(c)(1)(D) was suspended.
(E) promises results;
(F) states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other laws;
(G) compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated;
(H) contains a paid testimonial or endorsement, unless the fact of payment is disclosed;
(I) includes (i) a portrayal of a client by a non-client without disclaimer of such, as required by Rule 7.2(c)(10); (ii) the depiction of any events or scenes, other than still pictures, photographs or other static images, that are not actual or authentic without disclaimer of such, as required by Rule 7.2(c)(10); or (iii) a still picture, photograph or other static image that, due to alteration or the context of its use, is false, misleading or deceptive;
(J) includes the portrayal of a lawyer by a non-lawyer,2the portrayal of a law firm as a fictionalized entity, the use of a fictitious name to refer to lawyers not associated together in a law firm, or otherwise implies that lawyers are associated in a law firm if that is not the case;
(K) resembles a legal pleading, notice, contract or other legal document;
(L) utilizes a nickname, moniker, motto or trade name that states or implies an ability to obtain results in a matter; or
(M) fails to comply with Rule 1.8(e)(4)(iii).
(2) Prohibited Visual and Verbal Portrayals and Illustrations. A lawyer shall not include in any advertisement or unsolicited written communication any visual or verbal descriptions, depictions, illustrations (including photographs) or portrayals of persons, things, or events that are false, misleading or deceptive.
(3) Advertising Areas of Practice. A lawyer or law firm shall not state or imply in advertisements or unsolicited written communications that the lawyer or law firm currently practices in an area of practice when that is not the case.
(4) Stating or Implying Louisiana State Bar Association Approval. .A lawyer or law firm shall not make any statement that directly or impliedly indicates that the communication has received any kind of approval from The Louisiana State Bar Association.
(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” except as follows:
(A) Lawyers Certified by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization. A lawyer who complies with the Plan of Legal Specialization, as determined by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization, may inform the public and other lawyers of the lawyer’s certified area(s) of legal practice. Such communications should identify the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization as the certifying organization and may state that the lawyer is “certified,” or “board certified in (area of certification).”
(B) Lawyers Certified by Organizations Other Than the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization or Another State Bar. A lawyer certified by an organization other than the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization or another state bar may inform the public and other lawyers of the lawyer’s certified area(s) of legal practice by stating that the lawyer is “certified,” or “board certified in (area of certification)” if:
(i) the lawyer complies with Section 6.2 of the Plan of Legal Specialization for the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization; and,
(ii) the lawyer includes the full name of the organization in all communications pertaining to such certification. A lawyer who has been certified by an organization that is accredited by the American Bar Association is not subject to Section 6.2 of the Plan of Legal Specialization.
(C) Certification by Other State Bars. A lawyer certified by another state bar may inform the public and other lawyers of the lawyer’s certified area(s) of legal practice and may state in communications to the public that the lawyer is “certified,” or “board certified in (area of certification)” if:
(i) the state bar program grants certification on the basis of standards reasonably comparable to the standards of the Plan of Legal Specialization, as determined by the Louisiana Board of Legal Specialization; and,
(ii) the lawyer includes the name of the state bar in all communications pertaining to such certification.
(6) Disclosure of Liability For Expenses Other Than Fees. Every advertisement and unsolicited written communication that contains information about the lawyer’s fee, including those that indicate no fee will be charged in the absence of a recovery, shall disclose whether the client will be liable for any costs and/or expenses in addition to the fee.
(7) Period for Which Advertised Fee Must be Honored. A lawyer who advertises a specific fee or range of fees for a particular service shall honor the advertised fee or range of fees for at least ninety days from the date last advertised unless the advertisement specifies a shorter period; provided that, for advertisements in the yellow pages of telephone directories or other media not published more frequently than annually, the advertised fee or range of fees shall be honored for no less than one year following publication.
(8) Firm Name. A lawyer shall not advertise services under a name that violates the provisions of Rule 7.10.
(9) Language of Required Statements. Any words or statements required by these Rules to appear in an advertisement or unsolicited written communication must appear in the same language in which the advertisement or unsolicited written communication appears. If more than one language is used in an advertisement or unsolicited written communication, any words or statements required by these Rules must appear in each language used in the advertisement or unsolicited written communication.
(10) Appearance of Required Statements, Disclosures and Disclaimers. Any words or statements required by these Rules to appear in an advertisement or unsolicited written communication must be clearly legible if written or intelligible if spoken aloud.
All disclosures and disclaimers required by these Rules shall be clear, conspicuous, and clearly associated with the item requiring disclosure or disclaimer. Written disclosures and disclaimers shall be clearly legible and, if televised or displayed electronically, shall be displayed for a sufficient time to enable the viewer to easily see and read the disclosure or disclaimer. Spoken disclosures and disclaimers shall be plainly audible and clearly intelligible.3
(11) Payment by Non-Advertising Lawyer. No lawyer shall, directly or indirectly, pay all or a part of the cost of an advertisement by a lawyer not in the same firm.
(12) Referrals to Another Lawyer. If the case or matter will be, or is likely to be, referred to another lawyer or law firm, the communication shall include a statement so advising the prospective client.
(13) Payment for Recommendations; Lawyer Referral Service Fees. A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services, except that a lawyer may pay the reasonable cost of advertising or written or recorded communication permitted by these Rules, and may pay the usual charges of a lawyer referral service or other legal service organization only as follows:
(A) A lawyer may pay the usual, reasonable and customary charges of a lawyer referral service operated by the Louisiana State Bar Association, any local bar association, or any other not-for-profit organization, provided the lawyer referral service:
(i) refers all persons who request legal services to a participating lawyer;
(ii) prohibits lawyers from increasing their fee to a client to compensate for the referral service charges; and
(iii) fairly and equitably distributes referral cases among the participating lawyers, within their area of practice, by random allotment or by rotation.
[(B) There is no paragraph 7.2(13)(B) in the rule adopted by the Louisiana Supreme Court.]
- ABA Model Rule 7.2
The Louisiana Supreme Court adopted this rule on June 26, 2008. It was amended on June 4, 2009 and became effective October 1, 2009. In the wake of the Fifth Circuit’s 2011 declaration that some of Louisiana’s lawyer advertising rules were unconstitutional, the Louisiana Supreme Court amended this rule on June 22, 2011. Most recently, on June 2, 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court amended Rule 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. See Order Amending Rule 7.2(c).
Louisiana Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2(c)(13)(A)(i)-(iii) (2009) is nearly identical to the prior version of this rule, which was adopted on January 20, 2004, and became effective March 1, 2004. See also ABA Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct 7.2 (2002).
The current version of Rule 7.2 sets forth rules for required content, permissible content, and prohibited content of advertisements and unsolicited written communications. See La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 7.2(a)-(c) (2009).
In 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court amended paragraph 7.2(c)(5) of this rule to permit a lawyer to use the words “specialize” and “expert” to describe areas of practice. 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 Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 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 the 2016 amendment, the Louisiana Rules now expressly permit such innocuous statements.
ABA Model Rule 7.2
Communication Concerning a Lawyer’s Services: Specific
(a) A lawyer may communicate information regarding the lawyer’s services through any media.
(b) A lawyer shall not compensate, give or promise 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.
(3) pay for a law practice in accordance with Rule 1.17; and
(4) refer clients to another lawyer or a nonlawyer professional pursuant to an agreement not otherwise prohibited under these Rules that provides for the other person to refer clients or customers to the lawyer, if
- (i) the reciprocal referral agreement is not exclusive, and
- (ii) the client is informed of the existence and nature of the agreement.
(5) give nominal gifts as an expression of appreciation that are neither intended nor reasonably expected to be a form of compensation for recommending a lawyer’s services.
(c) A lawyer shall not state or imply that a lawyer is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, unless:
- (1) the lawyer has been certified as a specialist by an organization that has been approved by an appropriate authority of the state or the District of Columbia or a U.S. Territory or that has been accredited by the American Bar Association; and
- (2) the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication.
(d) Any communication made pursuant to this rule shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.
Comments to ABA Model Rule 7.2
 This Rule permits public dissemination of information concerning a lawyer’s or law firm’s name, address, email address, website, and telephone number; the kinds of services the lawyer will undertake; the basis on which the lawyer’s fees are determined, including prices for specific services and payment and credit arrangements; a lawyer’s foreign language ability; names of references and, with their consent, names of clients regularly represented; and other information that might invite the attention of those seeking legal assistance.
Paying Others to Recommend a Lawyer
 Except as permitted under paragraphs (b)(1)-(b)(4), lawyers are not permitted to pay others for recommending the lawyer’s services. A communication contains a recommendation if it endorses or vouches for a lawyer’s credentials, abilities, competence, character, or other professional qualities. Directory listings and group advertisements that list lawyers by practice area, without more, do not constitute impermissible “recommendations.”
 Paragraph (b)(1), allows a lawyer to pay for advertising and communications permitted by this Rule, including the costs of print directory listings, on-line directory listings, newspaper ads, television and radio airtime, domain-name registrations, sponsorship fees, Internet-based advertisements, and group advertising. A lawyer may compensate employees, agents and vendors who are engaged to provide marketing or client development services, such as publicists, public-relations personnel, business-development staff, television and radio station employees or spokespersons and website designers and website designers.
 Paragraph (b)(5) permits lawyers to give nominal gifts as an expression of appreciation to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services or referring a prospective client. The gift may not be more than a token item as might be given for holidays, or other ordinary social hospitality. A gift is prohibited if offered or given in consideration of any promise, agreement or understanding that such a gift would be forthcoming or that referrals would be made or encouraged in the future.
 lawyer may pay others for generating client leads, such as Internet-based client leads, as long as the lead generator does not recommend the lawyer, any payment to the lead generator is consistent with Rules 1.5(e) (division of fees) and 5.4 (professional independence of the lawyer), and the lead generator’s communications are consistent with Rule 7.1 (communications concerning a lawyer’s services). To comply with Rule 7.1, a lawyer must not pay a lead generator that states, implies, or creates a reasonable impression that it is recommending the lawyer, is making the referral without payment from the lawyer, or has analyzed a person’s legal problems when determining which lawyer should receive the referral. See Comment  (definition of “recommendation”). See also Rule 5.3 (duties of lawyers and law firms with respect to the conduct of nonlawyers); Rule 8.4(a) (duty to avoid violating the Rules through the acts of another).
 A lawyer may pay the usual charges of a legal service plan or a not-for-profit or qualified lawyer referral service. A legal service plan is a prepaid or group legal service plan or a similar delivery system that assists people seeking to secure legal representation. A lawyer referral service, on the other hand, is any organization that holds itself out to the public as a lawyer referral service. Qualified referral services are consumer-oriented organizations that provide unbiased referrals to lawyers with appropriate experience in the subject matter of the representation and afford other client protections, such as complaint procedures or malpractice insurance requirements. Consequently, this Rule only permits a lawyer to pay the usual charges of a not-for-profit or qualified lawyer referral service. A qualified lawyer referral service is one that is approved by an appropriate regulatory authority as affording adequate protections for the public. See, e.g., the American Bar Association’s Model Supreme Court Rules Governing Lawyer Referral Services and Model Lawyer Referral and Information Service Quality Assurance Act.
 A lawyer who accepts assignments or referrals from a legal service plan or referrals from a lawyer referral service must act reasonably to assure that the activities of the plan or service are compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations. See Rule 5.3. Legal service plans and lawyer referral services may communicate with the public, but such communication must be in conformity with these Rules. Thus, advertising must not be false or misleading, as would be the case if the communications of a group advertising program or a group legal services plan would mislead prospective clients to think that it was a lawyer referral service sponsored by a state agency or bar association.
 A lawyer also may agree to refer clients to another lawyer or a nonlawyer professional, in return for the undertaking of that person to refer clients or customers to the lawyer. Such reciprocal referral arrangements must not interfere with the lawyer’s professional judgment as to making referrals or as to providing substantive legal services. See Rules 2.1 and 5.4(c). Except as provided in Rule 1.5(e), a lawyer who receives referrals from a lawyer or nonlawyer professional must not pay anything solely for the referral, but the lawyer does not violate paragraph (b) of this Rule by agreeing to refer clients to the other lawyer or nonlawyer professional, so long as the reciprocal referral agreement is not exclusive and the client is informed of the referral agreement. Conflicts of interest created by such arrangements are governed by Rule 1.7. Reciprocal referral agreements should not be of indefinite duration and should be reviewed periodically to determine whether they comply with these Rules. This Rule does not restrict referrals or divisions of revenues or net income among lawyers within firms comprised of multiple entities.
 Paragraph (c) of this Rule permits a lawyer to communicate that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular areas of law. A lawyer is generally permitted to state that the lawyer “concentrates in” or is a “specialist,” practices a “specialty,” or “specializes in” particular fields based on the lawyer’s experience, specialized training or education, but such communications are subject to the “false and misleading” standard applied in Rule 7.1 to communications concerning a lawyer’s services.
 The Patent and Trademark Office has a long-established policy of designating lawyers practicing before the Office. The designation of Admiralty practice also has a long historical tradition associated with maritime commerce and the federal courts. A lawyer’s communications about these practice areas are not prohibited by this Rule.
 This Rule permits a lawyer to state that the lawyer is certified as a specialist in a field of law if such certification is granted by an organization approved by an appropriate authority of a state, the District of Columbia or a U.S. Territory or accredited by the American Bar Association or another organization, such as a state supreme court or a state bar association, that has been approved by the authority of the state, the District of Columbia or a U.S. Territory to accredit organizations that certify lawyers as specialists. Certification signifies that an objective entity has recognized an advanced degree of knowledge and experience in the specialty area greater than is suggested by general licensure to practice law. Certifying organizations may be expected to apply standards of experience, knowledge and proficiency to ensure that a lawyer’s recognition as a specialist is meaningful and reliable. To ensure that consumers can obtain access to useful information about an organization granting certification, the name of the certifying organization must be included in any communication regarding the certification.
Required Contact Information
 This Rule requires that any communication about a lawyer or law firm’s services include the name of, and contact information for, the lawyer or law firm. Contact information includes a website address, a telephone number, an email address or a physical office location.
Rule 7.1(a), like Model Rule 7.2(a), expressly authorizes lawyer advertising. See La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 7.1(a) (2009). Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has held repeatedly that lawyers have a First Amendment right to engage in truthful, nonmisleading commercial speech–including advertising. See Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626 (1985); In re R.M.J., 455 U.S. 191, 199 (1982); Bates v. State Bar of Ariz., 433 U.S. 350, 374 (1977); see also Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm’n, 447, 447 U.S. 557, 563 (1980).
No Payments for Recommending Lawyer’s Services
Paragraph 7.2(c)(13) of this rule prohibits a lawyer from paying any third person for recommending the lawyer’s services. La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 7.2(c)(13) (2009). In so doing, it prohibits, among other things, a lawyer from paying a “runner” to “hustle” cases from prospective clients. See, e.g., In re Coney, 891 So. 2d 858 (La. 2005) (disbarring lawyer for paying “runners” to solicit personal injury cases); In re Kirchberg, 856 So. 2d 1162 (La. 2003) (imposing permanent disbarment on lawyer for criminal convictions and payments to runners); In re Sledge, 859 So. 2d 671, 673-74 (La. 2003) (disbarring lawyer for paying nonlawyers $50 to $100 for case referrals); In re Lockhart, 795 So. 2d 309 (La. 2001); In re Grand, 778 So. 2d 580 (La. 2001); see also In re Cuccia, 752 So. 2d 796 (La. 1999); In re Tolchinsky, 740 So. 2d 109 (La. 1999); In re Brass, 696 So. 2d 967 (La. 1997). The rule allows a lawyer to pay the costs associated with permissible advertising or other communications. See La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 7.2(13) (2009).
No Incentives for Favorable Online Reviews
Online legal directories (such as Avvo) permit clients to review and rate their lawyers. Likewise, innumerable social-media sites (like Facebook, YouTube, and others) allow users to “connect” with lawyers and law firms, and to “like,” “follow,” or “subscribe” to them and their posts. May a lawyer offer an incentive to social media users and clients to rate, connect or otherwise interact with lawyer’s social media presence? In an October 2019, ethics opinion, the North Carolina State Bar said “no.” See N.C. State Bar Assoc., Offering Incentive to Engage with Law Practice’s Social Networking Sites (Oct. 25, 2019).
A lawyer asked the North Carolina Bar Association whether it was professionally appropriate “to offer a prize incentive to anyone who connects or interacts with any of his social media platforms. All users who connect or interact with Lawyer’s law practice social media account will be entered into a drawing for a prize.” See id. In answering the inquiry in the negative, the opinion concluded that offering such an incentive for providing online reviews would violate two standards of conduct.
First, such an incentive would violate the principle that “lawyers may not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services.” A client’s “like” of a lawyer on social media is akin to a recommendation of the lawyer’s services.
Second, a review prompted by an undisclosed incentive would be an improper “false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.” Said the opinion:
The purpose behind Rule 7.2(b)’s prohibition on offering something of value in exchange for recommending services is to ensure that recommendations for a lawyer’s services are based upon actual experiences or legitimate opinions of the lawyer’s service, rather than financial incentive. The displayed “like” of a law practice may indicate some prior experience with the law practice or the personnel associated with the practice upon which the user’s “liking” of the practice is based.
This opinion provides good advice. Lawyers can–and should–have a visible presence on the Internet in general, and on social media in particular. Lawyers can–and should– encourage satisfied clients to “like, share, follow, or otherwise interact” with such social media accounts. But to comply with the rules, lawyers simply can’t pay their clients or others for such positive endorsements.
AVVO Advisor Involves Impermissible Payments
Avvo Advisor is a service that connects prospective clients with Louisiana lawyers- for a fee. How does it work? A prospective client visits the website https://ww.avvo.com/advisor, selects the legal service needed, pays Avvo a fixed fee, and Avvo arranges for an “experienced Louisiana lawyer” to return the prospective client’s call within minutes.
From the lawyer’s standpoint, participating is easy. The lawyer simply clicks the “Join Today” button and agrees to provide certain legal services for a fixed fee. For example, the flat fee for a “15-minut Family advice session” is $39.00; filing for an “uncontested divorce” is $995.00; and creating a “last will and testament” is $295.00. Avvo boasts:
With more than 8 million visits to Avvo each month, we can connect you with clients who have already paid for limited-scope legal services. There’s no chasing leads.
You choose from dozens of legal services and control your availability. Clients only buy what you want to sell, when you want to sell it.
Avvo handles the billing up front, so you can focus on getting the client the help they need. No sending invoices.
After the lawyer provides the services, Avvo sends the lawyer “100% of the client’s payments.” The lawyer then “[a]s a completely separate transaction,” pays a “per-service marketing fee.” The amount of that marketing fee “depends on the service, and ranges from a $10 marketing fee for a $39 service, to $40 marketing fee for a $149 service, up to a $400 marketing fee for a $2995 service.” See Attorney FAQ for Avvo Legal Services.
“Is it ethical?,” you ask. According to Avvo, “yes, it is.” Avvo says that is not getting paid for lawyer referrals: “Avvo is not referring people to a particular lawyer. Potential clients choose which attorney they would like to work with from all available, participating attorneys.” Furthermore, Avvo says that it is not sharing in legal fees: “Fee splits are not inherently unethical. They only become a problem if the split creates a situation that may compromise a lawyer’s professional independence of judgment. We believe that Avvo Legal Services fees, if deducted like credit card fees, would involve the sort of technical fee split that would not create such a potential for compromise.” See id.
The problem is that Avvo is wrong. As several ethics opinions have correctly concluded: “The referral service described in the request violates Rule 5.4 as impermissible fee sharing, [and] violates Rule 72 as paying for a recommendation of services beyond the reasonable costs of advertising” among other problems. See Utah Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee, Op. No. 17-05 at 4-5 (Sep 27, 2017); Ind. Sup. Ct. Discipl’y Comm’n, Op. 1-18 (Apr. 2018); see also S.C. Ethics Op. 16-06 (2016); Pa. Ethics Op. 2016-200 (2016); Ohio Ethics Op. 2016-3 (2016); N.Y. State Bar Ethics Op. 1132 (2017); N.J. Ethics Op. 732 (2017). Considering these unfavorable ethics opinions, Louisiana lawyers should avoid participating in Avvo Advisor. Louisiana Rule 5.4(a) provides that a “lawyer or law firm shall not share legal fees with a non lawyer,” except under unusual circumstances. Similarly, Louisiana Rule 7.2(c)(13) provides that a “lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services except that a lawyer may pay the reasonable cost of advertising or written or recorded communication permitted by these Rules, and may pay the usual charges of a lawyer referral service….” Both rules are squarely implicated by Avvo’s questionable business model.
Payments for “Lead Generation”
In August 2012, the ABA amended the comments to the corresponding model rule to expressly provide that:
a lawyer may pay others for generating client leads, such as Internet-based client leads, as long as the lead generator does not recommend the lawyer, any payment to the lead generator is consistent with Rules 1.5(e) (division of fees) and 5.4 (professional independence of the lawyer), and the lead generator’s communications are consistent with Rule 7.1 (communications concerning a lawyer’s services). To comply with Rule 7.1, a lawyer must not pay a lead generator that states, implies, or creates a reasonable impression that it is recommending the lawyer, is making the referral without payment from the lawyer, or has analyzed a person’s legal problems when determining which lawyer should receive the referral. See also Rule 5.3 (duties of lawyers and law firms with respect to the conduct of nonlawyers); Rule 8.4(a) (duty to avoid violating the Rules through the acts of another).
It is uncertain, however, whether Louisiana would allow this practice. Some other states have not. See, e.g., Zelotes v. Rousseau, No. 09-0412, Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee (Feb. 8, 2010).
Absent aggravating or mitigating circumstances, the following sanctions are generally appropriate in cases involving violations of Rule 7.2: disbarment, when the lawyer knowingly engages in conduct that is a violation of a duty owed to the profession with the intent to obtain a benefit for the lawyer or another, and causes serious or potentially serious injury to a client, the public, or the legal system; suspension, when the lawyer knowingly engages in conduct that is a violation of a duty owed to the profession, and causes injury or potential injury to a client, the public, or the legal system; reprimand, when the lawyer negligently engages in conduct that is a violation of a duty owed to the profession, and causes injury or potential injury to a client, the public, or the legal system; and, admonition, when the lawyer engages in an isolated instance of negligence that is a violation of a duty owed to the profession, and causes little or no actual or potential injury to a client, the public or the legal system. See ABA Stds. for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions stds. 7.0-7.4 (1986).
However, not all technical violations of this rule subject a lawyer to discipline. In In re Loughlin, 148 So. 3d 176 (La. 2014), the Louisiana Supreme Court found that the lawyer’s use of the term “specializing” on his website caused no harm to the public and, therefore, did not rise to the level of sanction able misconduct.
This page was updated on February 1, 2021.
- Enforcement of Rule 7.2(c)(1)(D) was suspended by Louisiana Supreme Court order dated April 27, 2011. See Louisiana Supreme Court Order of April 27, 2011. ↵
- Enforcement of the entirety of Rule 7.2(c)(1)(J) was suspended by the Louisiana Supreme Court on April 27, 2011. SeeLouisiana Supreme Court Order of April 27, 2011. Two days later, however, the court resumed enforcement of this paragraph, except for the portion prohibiting “the portrayal of a judge or jury.” SeeLouisiana Supreme Court Order of April 29, 2011. The rule text set forth above (and the version of the rules posted on-line by the Louisiana Supreme Court) deletes that language from the paragraph. ↵
- As deleted and replaced by Louisiana Supreme Court order of April 27, 2011.SeeLouisiana Supreme Court Order of April 27, 2011. ↵