Online Legal Advice

On BLawgs, Online Legal Forums, Law Websites, Social Media Pages, and Legal Ethics

image_printPrint this!

Online Legal Advice

At this age, almost all products and services are advertised online. Like they say, everything is just a click away. Including legal services.

For legal services however, regulations therefor have always been restrictive.

In fact, as a rule, a lawyer is not allowed to advertise his legal services because as we have been told, the legal profession is the noblest of all professions. It is not like any other craft or trade. It is public service. Lawyering is not a business.

There are however certain exceptions whereby a lawyer may still “market” his legal services. In the Philippines, these are:

a. Word of mouth advertisement

b. Simple calling card

c. Publication in reputable law lists

d. Telephone directories

e. Written legal commentaries, books, and other law materials

f. Simple law office signage

And even these have restrictions. For example, for calling cards, a lawyer is not allowed to place therein his field of expertise. Hence, he cannot place in his calling cards that he is an expert in labor law. The only things visible there should be his name, his address, and his phone number or any other contact info such as an email address perhaps. He is also not allowed to place there any other non-legal qualifications like if he is a certified public accountant or if he is also serving as a vice mayor in a certain city or that he is an investment broker. When it comes to signages, the same must not exceed a certain height and width limit.

For legal commentaries, they must be written and issued in the most generic sense possible.

The catch-all regulation which governs the advertisement of legal services is found in Canon 27 of the Canons of Professional Ethics. This Canon, simply stated, prohibits a lawyer from soliciting legal business. In short, a lawyer must be passive, not aggressive (no ambulance chasing). This is also echoed in Sec. 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court which defines the practice of soliciting legal services as malpractice. (See also the cases of In Re: Tagorda and Director vs. Bayot)

Now, the list above provides the methods on how a lawyer may legally advertise his legal services without the threat of being sanctioned by the courts. Some say the list is exclusive, which means you cannot use any other means. Hence, you do not see lawyers publishing a copy of their calling cards in newspapers. Some say the list is not exclusive because if it is, then lawyers and law firms may not use the internet to promote their legal services.

This brings us to my next point, may a Philippine lawyer advertise his legal services online?

Definitely, putting up a website for you or your law firm is a form of advertisement. But is it okay?

Personally, I think it is okay. It is not wrong per se.

So long as the lawyer or the law firm adheres to the restrictions currently imposed then it is fine to use the internet as a mode to advertise his legal profession.

There is however a need for the Supreme Court to provide clear cut guidelines on the use of websites, law blogs, online forums, or even social media pages by lawyers or law firms.

For clarity, a law firm’s or a lawyer’s website is one which carries the name of a law firm or a lawyer either in the domain name or in the website’s name as may be reflected on the site’s banner or logo.

Come to think of it, there are restrictions on what may or may not be placed in a lawyer’s calling card. Certainly, there should be restrictions on what may or may not be placed in a lawyer’s or a law firm’s website. I think that the restrictions imposed upon calling cards should be equally applicable to websites. That being, what should be seen on such websites should only be the law firm’s name, names of the lawyer/s, its address, and its contact info (a contact form is okay).

Unfortunately, some law firms tend to include details about their law firms or the firm partners which are otherwise prohibited for calling cards.

The idea is to treat websites as online calling cards. Hence, a law firm’s website should not include other details such as a law firm’s or a lawyer’s areas of expertise, their exploits, and such other details which, again, are otherwise prohibited to be included in a lawyer’s calling card.

Other possible restrictions such as the size of the website’s banner, linking to social media pages or other blogs, running of third party ads, and the number of pages are up for debate.

On the other hand, law blogs or blawgs (such as this site) should be treated as written legal commentaries.

As such, a lawyer should only share his opinion or legal expertise in its most generic form. It should be theoretical and not case specific. We would however encounter several blawgs (and their social media pages) which tend to answer specific legal questions for specific and actual scenarios. In fact, some of this blawgs would directly answer the legal queries of their readers/commenters publicly.

A blawg should be academic in its approach. It should seek to educate rather than promote the lawyer’s or the law firm’s practice. It may be tricky to regulate this since a legal commentary inherently promotes the stature of its lawyer-author but nevertheless, what should be apparent in the legal commentary is that the promotion is only incidental or a latent effect of the commentary. In other words, the lawyer-author must avoid what we Filipinos term as “nagbubuhat ng sariling bangko“.

For social media pages, the profile picture or the cover picture shall only contain details as that of a lawyer’s calling card. The lawyer may post his picture there as profile picture or as part of the cover picture for purposes of identification. The social media page should avoid public interaction which tend to answer case specific legal queries, unless (I guess), done privately through private messaging services.

For legal forums/fora, it should also be academic in approach. Though there are a lot of legal forums out there which are run by non-lawyers and most commenters are also non-lawyers. In fact, a lot of them are law students who are trying their hand in helping others out of their legal quandaries. But the same restrictions should be applied. Legal queries posted therein must be answered in the most generic form possible. Bear in mind that the act of giving legal advice, as much as possible, should be contained in an attorney-client relationship. Giving case specific legal advice without an attorney-client relationship is dangerous as such practice tends to lower down the standards of the legal profession. Besides, the advice might end up being ill-taken not only by the actual recipient of the advice but by other readers or site visitors who might think that the advice is also applicable to them. Again, it is always best to send the client to the law office so the lawyer can meet him/her face to face and in order for the lawyer to provide a comprehensive legal advice. For only in a face to face conversation can a lawyer fully assess a client’s cause.

These are just but a few of the regulations I could think of for blawgs, law websites, social media pages, and forums. I am sure there are a multitude of other suggestions out there so comment your suggestions below and hopefully we can come up with a more comprehensive set of suggestions.

AUTHOR: Howard Chan is the owner of UberDigests. When he has free time (cough, cough), he takes that time to make his wife and kid happy and if some more time would permit, learn more about SEO, web design, and other stuff about coding. He finished Political Science but is no way a political scientist nor is he a politician. He passed the Bar Exams in 2014 and is currently serving as a Public Attorney in the City of San Fernando, La Union. Feel free to check his Filipinolosophy blog.
image_printPrint this!

Leave a Reply