On February 23, 2017, the Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”) introduced amendments to advertising rules that govern legal practitioners in Ontario.[1] The new rules were implemented as a result of law firms’ rapidly increasing marketing efforts, particularly in the world of personal injury advertising, coupled with an equal increase in complaints that the Law Society received. In 2015, the Law Society handled a total of 141 complaints of law firms’ advertising practices.

Malcolm Mercer, chair of the Law Society’s Advertising and Fee Arrangements Issues Working Group said that the LSO’s new advertising rules focus on ensuring that lawyers market only “demonstrably true, accurate and verifiable” legal services, thereby preventing potential clients from becoming misled, confused or deceived[2]. The Working Group conducted market research that identified several areas of concern with regards to lawyers’ marketing practices.

The amended rules address these concerns by:

  • Requiring lawyers to identify in their advertising whether they are a licensed lawyer or paralegal[3];
  • Prohibiting lawyers to advertise for work that they do not intend to or are not licensed to do[4];
  • Prohibiting lawyers from using language such as “best”, “super” and “#1” in advertising[5];
  • Limiting the types of awards and honours that lawyers are permitted to use in advertising, as some awards are purchased, as opposed to received by evaluation of performance[6]; and
  • Avoiding second service opinion marketing, which entails disclosing the practice of referring clients to other firms in exchange for a fee[7].

Lawyers who violate the Rules of Professional Conduct will be subject to appropriate regulatory action, as to maintain a high standard of professionalism and foster public confidence in the legal profession.

Time will tell as to whether the Law Society’s efforts will have any effect on advertising practices within the legal profession.

 

[1] Law Society of Ontario, Rules of Professional Conduct (June 22, 2000, amendments current to September 28, 2017), s. 4.2-1, online: https://www.lsuc.on.ca/lawyer-conduct-rules/ [“LSO Rules”].

[2] Law Society of Ontario Gazette Newsletter, “Law Society strengthens advertising rules in the public interest”,February 23, 2017.

[3] LSO Rules, supra note 1, s.4.2-1.1.

[4] LSO Rules, supra note 1 at the commentary to s. 4.2-1.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.


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