Within the Province of Ontario, the core rules which govern the practice of legal marketing are Rule 4.02, 3.03, and 3.04 in the Law Society of Ontario’s Code of Conduct. Rule 4.02 therein refers to the marketing of legal services and contains three (3) subsections. The first of which, 4.02(0), provides a definition of marketing as:
“…advertisements and other similar communications in various media as well as firm names (including trade names), letterhead, business cards and logos.”
The second subsection, 4.02(1), defines a variety of appropriate ways for a lawyer to engage in marketing, it states that:
A lawyer may market legal services, if the marketing:
(a) is demonstrably true, accurate and verifiable,
(b) is neither misleading, confusing, or deceptive, nor likely to mislead, confuse or deceive, and
(c) is in the best interests of the public and is consistent with a high standard of professionalism.
Included in this subsection is additional commentary regarding practices that violate the rules of legal marketing in Ontario. Marketing activities that are restricted include suggesting qualitative superiority to other lawyers, raising expectations unjustifiably, suggesting or implying that a lawyer is aggressive, disparaging other persons, groups, organizations or institutions, taking advantage of a vulnerable person or group, and using testimonials or endorsements that contain emotional appeals.
The third subsection, 3.02(3), refers to the advertising of fees and states that:
A lawyer may advertise fees charged by the lawyer for legal services if:
(a) the advertising is reasonably precise as to the services offered for each fee quoted,
(b) the advertising states whether other amounts, such as disbursements and taxes, will be charged in addition to the fee, and
(c) the lawyer adheres to the advertised fee.
Rule 3.03: Advertising Nature of Practice
Rule 3.03 prescribes that a lawyer may not advertise that they are a specialist in an area of law unless that lawyer has been certified as a specialist by the Law Society of Ontario.
The rule does allow lawyers that are certified as specialists in one jurisdiction but not in another, to advertise as specialists in all jurisdictions provided that the certifying authority or organization is identified. Additionally, the rule allows legal firms to advertise areas of practice and identify their proficiency or experience in particular areas of the law; however, the firm cannot be misleading in its representation and cannot make claims that they are the most proficient or the most experienced.
What to Do; and What Not to Do in Your Legal Marketing
Lawyers and Paralegals in Ontario are allowed to:
- Mention their firm's experience and proficiency in a specific practice area of law.
- Use non-emotional testimonials.
- List practice areas.
- Advertise fees/rates (so long as the representation is true and specifies what service the fee/rate is associated with).
Lawyers and Paralegals in Ontario are not allowed to:
- Use the word “specialist” or “expert” to refer to a lawyer or paralegal that has not been certified as a specialist by the Law Society of Ontario or other relevant body.
- Use emotional appeals.
- Suggest that their law firm or lawyers/paralegals are aggressive.
For further information regarding the rules governing legal marketing in Ontario, refer to the Law Society of Ontario’s Code of Conduct