Omar asked me to write for the lawiscool.com , a blogsite where canadian students post about various legal issues. He did comment on my previous post on professionalism in law in India and I thought that post should do something with that then. Since I am allowed cross- posting, here is what I wrote;
One of my strongest memories of my entering canada were that the moment I switched on the TV, I saw an advertisement of a personal injury law firm. A few minutes after that I saw the advertisement of a firm specialising in family law and divorce. Needless to say I was amused.
But on a more serious note, I started pondering as to the present state of the common law practice of being a lawyer. There used to be a time when lawyers were considered as professionals at par with doctors. This included the fact that lawyers (barristers and solicitors) could not advertise in public fora and at all times were to remain as ‘gentlemen and officers of the court’. The reasons given for this rule were the nobility of the legal profession and the fact that the power that a lawyer can give to his client, and conversely take away from a person who is not represented, is enormous. As a display of ethics, lawyers were not to be driven by concerns for money but by the manner in which they treated their clients and conduct in the courtroom. In time, this ban was lifted in England for solicitors but Barristers were still strictly bound by it. Such practice extends to other common law jurisdictions like India where even today law firms and lawyers are not allowed to advertise publicly. The rules even state that a lawyer in India cannot give his visiting card away without someone asking for it.
For all concerns of free speech and that the right to advertising is a part of free speech, there is still a plausible case as to why law firms should atleast maintain a strict protocol as to the manner of their advertising. The starting point of this analysis would be a suit brought somewhere in the US by a wife stating that the lawfirm’s advertising was responsible for the fact that her husband now wants to divorce her. The facts that I am somewhat aware of are that after strenously advertising in the television, the firm hired a marriage counsellor for the husband at its expense to tell him that his marriage wasn’t working and that he should divorce. Ridiculous as it may sound, it is true. This has later been dramatised in an episode in the TV show Boston Legal.
But let us fathom as to what we get out of this case. If we acknowledge that a lawyer has a great ability to influence his client, can the nobility of the legal profession and ethical concerns be downplayed by the idea of free speech? Is there still a belief in the nobility of the legal profession ? Gone are the days when barristers in common law countries would wear wigs and Queens Counsel would be appointed with special robes given to them. But splitting for common law practice in that manner cannot justify the manner in which advertising is taken up in Canada and the US. What happens when officers of the court and players in the justice system overtly employ tactics to destroy the institution of marriage, when personal injury lawyers are available at the dial of a single number displayed on TV to reduce the defendant, who may even be your relative to penury?
With this single instance in mind, I do not advocate for a ban in advertising but surely believe in the fact that some standards must exist to do so.I personally believe in the integrity and dignity attached to the legal profession and that such actions destroy it.
what I have written above is with a background of the Common law tradition of being a lawyer and not with any Ontario or Canadian legal provision in mind. If there do exists any standards to that effect, I’d be glad to know.