16 Reasons why Lawyers in India should be allowed to Advertise

Update According to the India Law Journal in its issue 2, volume 2, "Bar Council allows lawyers to allow advertise their services on the internet"(sic)

The Bar Council of India has finally allowed lawyers to advertise their services on the internet in this era of globalization. This move has come late as firms abroad have been advertising their services since more than a decade. This decision was informed by the BCI to the Supreme Court after an affidavit was filed through its secretary Mr. S. Radhakrishnan. However, as decided in the case of V.B. Joshi v. Union of India, where this amendment was made in Rule 36, Section IV, only 5 pieces of information can be advertised on the internet i.e. (1) name of the firm, (2) address, telephone numbers and email id, (3) (a) enrollment number, (b) date of enrollment, (c) name of State Bar Council where originally enrolled, (d) name of the State Bar Council on whose roll name stands currently and (e) name of the Bar Association of which the advocate is a member, (4) professional qualifications and academic qualifications and (5) areas of practice."

According to the newspaper 'Economic Times', "Under the amended rule, advocates can mention in their chosen websites, their names, telephone numbers, e-mail ID, professional qualification and areas of specialisation".

It is interesting that such a vaguely worded statement was filed by the bar council in an affidavit, and the hearing of the case was postponed indefinitely. I think that this means that lawyers can put up banner advertisements on any website showing the permitted information. This is in fact being done on many websites today, including on google, and on a popular web directory which has hired Amitabh Bachchan to appear in its advertisements.

The Bar Council of India states in the rules as laid down in its code of ethics in the section called "An Advocate's duty towards Colleagues" that " An Advocate shall not solicit work or advertise, except through a medium maintained by the Bar Council of India, either directly or indirectly, whether by circulars, advertisements, touts, personal communications, interviews not warranted by personal relations, furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments or producing his/her photographs to be published in connection with cases in which he/she has been engaged or concerned. His/her sign-board or name-plate should be of a reasonable size. The sign-board or name-plate or stationery should not indicate that he/she is or has been a President or Member of a Bar Council or of any Association or that he/she has been associated with any person or organisation or with any particular cause or matter or that he/she specialises in any particular type of work or that he/she has been a Judge or an Advocate General."

Here it is clarified by the Bar Council that, "Soliciting work or 'advertise' as used in this clause of the Code would not mean and include setting up of a web-site by an advocate or a law firm giving only basic information about the names and number of lawyers in a law firm, the contact details and areas of practice."

If you are a young lawyer reading this, you may feel upset about this and say "Tough luck but rules are rules". If this writer happens to be somewhere around you he would probably say "Really? What rules?" Let me try and list down the number of ways in which I can prove that this rule is totally misconceived, impracticable, and indeed is being violated even as you read these words and try to get a grip on the spirit behind these words.

1) Are you telling me that if a lawyer becomes a law minister and does not stop practicing law, knowing that he is getting newspaper comments and headlines about him and his acts every day, this is ethical, and does not violate his duty towards his colleagues? Are you saying that you can call such behaviour ethical and call a 'lesser' lawyer's advertisement on the internet unethical?

1a) Replace 'law minister' with 'additional solicitor general', 'solicitor general', 'science and technology minister', 'governor', 'leader of the opposition', 'Rajya Sabha member', 'chief minister', 'home minister', 'finance minister', and any other title you can think of which has adorned a lawyer who went on to not quit law practice. Then repeat the question which has been asked at the end of point no 1 above.

1b) Does the BCI really feel that if a person does not tell people that he or she has been a judge or an advocate-general people will not come to know this fact? What does it feel about the Supreme Court putting up a list of lawyers on its website and stating loudly and clearly that these people are senior advocates, and that such and such senior advocate is a retired judge, a retired chief justice, or a retired advocate general? Will such information printed on a visiting card amount to more undue publicity than if it is published on the Supreme Court website, (as it has indeed been)?

2) A firm of lawyers describes itself on a website owned or at least operated by it as the oldest law firm in India and goes on to state that it "boasts of an unparalleled legal tradition of being the legal advisor for the East India Company" inter alia, and then goes on to list its achievements –tangible and intangible/unverifiable– on its home page (viewed on 4th October 2013). (interestingly this firm was founded in 1896 according to its own website, and the East India Company was dissolved in 1874 according to the wikipedia page which pertains to that company). Is this self-publicising behaviour not against the word and spirit of the code of ethics of the bar council? If such behaviour can go unnoticed or unpunished then why are young lawyers afraid of advertising on the internet?

2a) Other firms are doing similar things. For example, there is one firm called x and y. It claims on its website (viewed on 4th October 2013) that "The members of the Firm offer its clientele high quality expertise derived from immense transactional experience". Is this not self-praise? Is this not an attempt at advertisement? (Let us assume for a moment here that not all people are aware of the fact that self-praise is no recommendation.)

3) Let us assume that one company makes a website which is totally according to BCI rules. You can look at the website of a company called Trilegal. I think that this website is a clear example of a website which does not even reach the envelope of the BCI rules, leave alone push it. Let us assume that there are other such sites. Now what is there in the BCI rules to stop such a website from spending a crore rupees on search engine optimisation and reaching the first page of Google's results? How can the BCI stop this when there is no agreed definition of what is and what is not search engine optimisation? How can you monitor or detect it even if you can define it?

3a) What about if some lawyer sets up a facebook page, and provides only his name, phone number, educational qualifications, years of experience, and area of practice on it. Now he goes on and spends a crore rupees on a facebook ad campaign to get a couple of million likes. Now he has a captive audience of about 3 to 4 lakh persons. How can the BCI stop this? Is this stoppable?

3b) What about those lawyers who advertise on google? How about if some lawyer does not put ads/links/ads-cum-links to his website on google but puts them on thousands of other websites? This can be done very easily today. How will you monitor the whole internet for such ads?

3c) How about if somebody sets up a website which is for the general public, and appears to be real and useful on the face of it, but is actually a vehicle for an individual practice? There are such sites. I sent a protest to a website called 498a.org about how unknown people were cutting and pasting my work from my website to their website without my permission. I sent this comment using their contact us form. In reply I got a thinly disguised advertisement for a particular firm of lawyers and a link to their website.

4) What about if some lawyer has a friend who becomes an editor in a weekly supplement in a national newspaper? How can you prove that the weekly advice column which he has been granted by the editors of this paper has not been 'inspired' by him? How do you stop such behaviour?

5) What do you do if there is an internationally famous rape case? Famous to such an extent that the local bar association passes a resolution prohibiting any of its members from accepting the brief of the accused men (for reasons best known to itself). Now comes a man who turns up in court having practically grabbed a brief which others are bound not to accept by the above resolution. Can anybody smell any collusion or illegality here? What do you call the resultant widespread newspaper comments? Inspired comments? Natural publicity?

6) Is not the BCI instruction to lawyers to not put any material on their website other than their names and address in direct conflict with its instruction to lawyers to provide free advice to needy persons?

7) What about those men and women who provide advice on forums on the internet? Do you call these "interviews not warranted by personal relations"? Or do you call this free legal advice to needy persons? How do you expect the lawyers amongst these persons to expect that their advice will be taken seriously if they do not provide their name and contact details?

8) What can a lawyer do if some competitor puts up ads purportedly on his behalf and then complains to the BCI? This is very feasible today, what with proxy IP addresses and extreme levels of professional rivalry. How will the BCI ensure that it is punishing only those who are themselves guilty of advertising for themselves only?

9) Even criminals who get convicted are known to complete the study of law in jail and then practice law. Does it make sense in the light of this fact to punish a lawyers by disenfranchising him for mere advertisement?

10) In fact even the phrase "interviews not warranted by personal relations" is a hangover from the British Raj. This phrase is encountered by other professionals like architects and chartered accountants also. It is a condition which could only have been dreamt up by members of the ruling class in a class ridden society, which is what the United Kingdom was and continues to be. India is pretty much the same due to such restrictions sanctioned by law. This flies in the face of Article 21 of the Constitution and needs to be scrapped urgently.

You can see a couple of options for advertising here if you are a lawyer.

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Published by Manish Udar

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Last updated on 23rd October 2014
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