These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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13-Marketing - Miscellaneous

42-Payments to Solicit Recommendations

47-Lawyer Referral Services

55-Firm Names and Letterhead



84-Direct Mail Marketing

86-Descriptions of Certification and Specialization

A compendium opinion on lawyer marketing reflects the 7/1/17 ethics rules changes. First, lawyers must disclose that their advertising includes actors rather than lawyers "when the language used implies otherwise" (as when actors "use first person references to themselves as lawyers"). Second, lawyers may use a phrase such as "no recovery, no fee" only when they have already decided that the "client's responsibility for advanced costs and expenses will be contingent on the outcome of the matter." Third, law firms may not include the name of a lawyer "not associated with the firm or a predecessor of the firm," and must "actually practice" under their advertised name. It is "potentially misleading" for lawyers to advertise "the use of a non-exclusive office space" if lawyers do not provide legal services there. Fourth, lawyers may not advertise that would-be clients "will have to consult an attorney" before speaking with an insurance company representative. Fifth, lawyers may advertise their participation in lawyer referral services, as long as the service is: "operated in the public interest; is open to all area lawyers who meet the services requirements; requires service members to pay malpractice insurance or otherwise ensure financial responsibility; has adopted procedures for admitting and removing lawyers; prohibits any fee-generated referral to any lawyers who have an ownership interest in the service. Among other things, such referral service membership advertising may not: falsely imply that membership is based on some objective "quality of services" assessment; state or imply that the services contain all eligible lawyers; falsely state or imply that a "substantial number" of lawyers participate in the service. Sixth, although advertising specific or cumulative case results no longer must be preceded by a specific disclaimer, such advertisements "can be misleading." For instance, it would be misleading to advertise a $1,000,000 verdict if the lawyer's client had turned down a $2,000,000 settlement offer before trial. Seventh, lawyers may not use such "extravagant or self-laudatory" advertisements such as "the best lawyers," "the most experienced," etc. Eighth, lawyers may not advertise or use client testimonials that cannot be "factually substantiated" – the same standard as the lawyers' own advertisements. Lawyers may use "soft endorsements" that describe lawyers' return of clients' phone calls, appearance of concern, etc. Ninth, lawyers may list their inclusion in publications such as The Best Lawyers In America, but if they are delisted they must accurately state the "year(s) or edition(s) in which the lawyer was listed." Tenth, lawyers may advertise as a "specialist" or "specializing in" certain areas, as long as they can establish its accuracy. Eleventh, lawyers may advertise using terms such as "expert" or "expertise" if they can factually substantiate the description.

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn