The D.C. Court of Appeals yesterday cleared the way for Washington lawyers to advertise and to solicit clients in person, as long as the lawyers representations are truthful and the potential clients are not pressured to accept legal services.
The new rules adopted yesterday by the court are considered to be one of the most liberal policies on lawyer advertising and solicitation in the country. More than 20,000 lawyers practice in Washington.
"We have sught to retain only those limitations which in our judgement are necessary to the protection of the public against unethical conduct by members of the legal profession," Chief Judge Theodore R. Newman Jr. of the appeals court said yesterday.
The court, which makes rules for lawyers' conduct here, heard testimony from consumer groups last month who argued that advertising not only would help inform the public about legal services but also would drive down the cost of some of those services.
Specifically, the court amended the Code of Professional Responsibility and Disciplinary Rules for lawyers to allow advertising and solicitation, subject to certain guidelines.
The court said that advertisements - whether on announcement cards, radio, television or in newspapers - should only convey information that will help a potential client choose a lawyer. For example, the new rules suggest that advertisements should include biographical information about the lawyer, a description of the lawyer's practice and some information about fees charged, such as a lawyer's hourly rate.
In its new disciplinary rules, the court specified that lawyers must avoid advertisements that would, for example, cite a lawyer's record of cases won and lost or contain endorsements of their capabilities.
The court lifted strict rules that prohibited lawyers from soliciting employment and said instead that attorneys could approach potential clients provided that the lawyer's statements are not "false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive . . . "
The new rules also prohibit lawyers from engaging in any promotional activity that is coercive or contains "unwarranted promises of benefits."
The new rules were considered by the full, nine-member court. However, associate Judges Frank Q. Nebeker and Stanley S. Harris dissented from the court's final decision and reversed the right to file separate statements on the issue at a later time.
D.C. Bar counsel Fred Brabowsky, whose office is in charge of lawyer discipline, said yesterday that he did not expect the new rules to result in immediate widespread advertising by lawyers. In anticipation of changes in local rules, there has been some limited advertising by lawyers in Washington over the past year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ban against such action, he said.
"A lot of lawyers still regard (advertising) as unseemly," Grabowsky said.
The new rules, which went into effect yesterday, are based primarily on recommendations made to the court by the D.C. Bar and approved by the Department of Justice.
All lawyers in Washington must belong to the D.C. Bar, which is an arm of the appeals court. In changing the rules on advertising and soliciting, the court also considered proposals from the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, a voluntary organization of lawyers, and from the American Bar Association.
Maryland has a similar, liberal policy on lawyer advertising, while Virginia's policies are more restrictive.