Bar Counsel Notes: Advertising fields of practice

May attorneys advertise/publicize/communicate specialization?

There appears to be some confusion or misunderstanding about the propriety of Maine attorneys being allowed to truthfully publicize or otherwise communicate the fact that they "specialize" in a particular area of law practice. The current language of Maine Bar Rule 3.8, as amended in 1994, allows attorneys to make "truthful statements identifying fields of law in which the lawyer practices, refrains from practice, concentrates, or specializes, or to which the lawyer's practice is limited... "Therefore, Maine attorneys should ignore (now inapplicable) Advisory Opinion #121 issued on February 4, 1992, which then concluded that a proposed "specialization advertisement" was prohibited by the then current, and much different language of Bar Rule 3.8. Prior to the Court's 1994 amendment, the terms of Bar Rule 3.8 (and 3.9(b)(4)) did expressly prohibit Maine attorneys from making any express or implied statements about specialization. That is no longer the case, and as long as the communication about specialization is truthful and not false advertisement, it is allowed (See also M. Bar R. 3.9(a),(b). However, Rule 3.8 continues to restrict attorneys' description or communication of their "certified expertise in a field of law", and attorneys should refer to that rule before making any such communication.

*Disclaimer: The Informal Ethics Advisory Notes from Bar Counsel are intended as outreach by the office of Bar Counsel for the use and benefit of the Maine bar. These scenarios are drawn from actual telephone calls received by the attorneys in the office of Bar Counsel in the course of providing informal advice on the Code of Professional Responsibility, known as Bar Counsel's "Ethics Hotline." The particular advice in each case is limited with reference to the particular factual situation related by the inquiring attorney who must be inquiring about his or her own conduct or the conduct of a member of his or her firm. We do not provide any advice to one attorney about the conduct of another attorney unless they are members of the same law firm. In the telephone opinions, we usually explore and discuss additional factual variables. However, I have attempted to pare down these factual scenarios to make the email newsletter more readable and useful in a general sense. Obviously, that creates the risk that slight variations on the facts, to a learned reader, may give rise to a different analysis and conclusion.