The proposed changes to the rules for lawyer advertising in Texas are on track to be submitted for official approval.
The State Bar of Texas’ board of directors will have 120 days to consider the amended rules that are expected to be submitted by the Committee on Disciplinary Rules and Referenda in January. The committee amended the original proposed changes after conducting public meetings over the summer and accepting additional input through the State Bar website.
Let’s take a look at some of the more notable rules in the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct and how they may or may not change.
Use of Trade Names a No-Go
One of the potential lawyer advertising rule changes that drew the most intense response from Texas lawyers was the possibility of allowing the use of trade names. However, under the pending version of TDRPC Rule 7.07, no Texas attorneys or firms will be permitted to use a trade name.
Texas, Ohio and New York are the only states that have an absolute prohibition on the use of trade names, which caused many attorneys to argue during the public comment period that Texas lawyers were being put at a distinct disadvantage.
However, many more lawyers despised the idea of trade names. That message apparently came through loud and clear based on the “no trade names” rule that is likely to be submitted to the board of directors. You can expect the bar to agree in the final vote.
Legal Specialization Road Defined
The second-hottest topic among the proposed changes was the notion of allowing attorneys to claim they were specialists in any area of law even if they were not board-certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
After a tidal wave of negative responses, the original proposed rule was revised to uphold the existing standard of allowing only those lawyers who are board-certified by the TBLS or a TBLS-accredited organization to advertise that they specialize in a particular area.
Again, expect the bar to stick with the status quo by clearly stating that the road to calling yourself a legal specialist runs through the Texas Board of Legal Specialization alone.
Law Firm Website Submissions Simplified
Law firm websites are still required to be submitted to the State Bar of Texas Advertising Review Committee for approval, but the proposed TDRPC Rule 7.05(b) will clearly note that firms need only submit the first page of their websites for the entire site to be reviewed.
This is welcome news for law firms and members of their marketing teams who have struggled to determine what website content should and shouldn’t be submitted to the bar for review. That means firms won’t be required to prepare a filing and pay a $100 fee every time they decide to update their websites with new information so long as that information conforms to the ad rules.
Gifts to Nonlawyer Referral Sources Allowed
Texas and several other states have long barred attorneys from providing gifts or anything else of value to nonlawyer referral sources, presumably to prevent “case runners” and other instances of nonlawyers being compensated to recruit clients.
But that will soon change if the bar adopts one of the proposed new rules that will permit lawyers to give referring nonlawyers “nominal gifts given as an expression of appreciation that are neither intended nor reasonably expected to be a form of compensation for recommending a lawyer’s services.”
While this new dynamic is likely to be approved by the bar, it could leave the door open to interpretation in several areas that could end up being a headache going forward. For example, most of us would expect a “nominal gift” to be a bottle of wine or tickets to a sporting event. But for a lawyer who bills clients $1,000 per hour, could a nominal gift be a Ferrari or a trip to Europe?
This may be overstating the lengths to which some attorneys might go to push the “nominal gift” envelope, but this rule seems to create the potential for mischief that does not exist under the current “no gifts” standard.
New Texas Legal Ad Rules Expected Early Next Year
These are just a few examples of the biggest potential developments for the new rules, which are expected to be submitted to the state bar’s board of directors in January.
Bruce Vincent is a writer and editor at Muse Communications, LLC, who has helped Texas attorneys with their advertising needs for more than 20 years. In his prior career as a legal journalist, Bruce was the only reporter to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage of the federal trial that allowed the State Bar of Texas to regulate legal advertising. Contact Bruce at email@example.com for more information about staying ahead of the new ad rules.