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New advertising rules accepted

|Written By Robert Todd

{mosinfo by=(Robert Todd) divider=(default) date=(Monday, 29 December 2008) class=(default)}The Law Society of Upper Canada has brought its advertising and marketing rules into the 21st century, giving lawyers more leeway to brand their services, so long as their claims meet standards.

The Law Society of Upper Canada has brought its advertising and marketing rules into the 21st century, giving lawyers more leeway to brand their services, so long as their claims meet standards.

“We think it’s time to get out of the business of looking at letterhead and thinking that we have, by virtue of those kinds of formalistic provisions, done a whole lot to protect the public,” law society professional regulation committee chairwoman Linda Rothstein told October Convocation. While benchers adopted the new rules in principle during that session, a finalized version of the new rules was accepted at their November meeting after being touched up by the LSUC’s rules drafter. Similar rules for paralegals also were adopted.

According to the committee’s October report, the new rules of professional conduct “significantly reduce the length - but not the substantive instruction - of the current rules on advertising and marketing legal services.” The report refers to the new approach as “more purposive.”

Among the committee’s reasons for reconsidering rule three of the rules of professional conduct was the fact that the law society deals with few complaints regarding advertising and a recent Competition Bureau report suggesting law societies lift unnecessary advertising restrictions.

The report suggests that many of the existing rules shield lawyers from competition, rather than guarding the public. It cites as examples prohibitions against using a judge’s name in a firm name, comparing services with other lawyers, and use of the words “from . . . minimum . . . and up” in fee advertisements.

The report suggests the law society should base its approach in this area on making sure advertising and marketing claims are not false, that they’re not misleading or deceptive, and that they are in the public interest and in line with lawyers’ professional responsibilities.

“The current rule includes all of these concepts,” the report states. “Much of the detail in the rule, however, appears to only elaborate on these concepts, which has the effect of ‘cluttering’ the rule, and in some respects, making it appear arcane.”

Some benchers took exception to the rules’ approach to lawyers’ claims of being an “expert” in a certain area of law. The law society needs to change the rule to bar lawyers from saying they are an expert unless they have been designated a certified specialist, said Bencher Bob Aaron, a member of the professional regulation committee.

“Law society staff have taken the view, and so did the committee over my objections, that it’s okay for a lawyer to say he or she is an expert without oversight by the society,” Aaron told Convocation. “I have a great deal of difficulty with the society’s position because I don’t think the public understands the differences between C.S. after a lawyer’s name, indicating certified specialist, and expert.”

Rothstein said the committee decided against Aaron’s suggestion “for a variety of complicated reasons.”

“We weren’t persuaded that we should include a per se prohibition on the use of the word ‘expert,’” she said.

Convocation is expected to revisit Aaron’s recommendation next month.
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