9:10 AM

SHOULD LAWYERS ADVERTISE FOR THEIR SERVICES


here are my thoughts ...... 
NB :  This article was part of a series we are running in one of the  print media in East Africa .

LAWYERS: ADVERTISING AND ICT by Karanja E. Mwangi
Competition motivates, and innovates; fosters good pricing, better services   and information flow .In competitive communities, institutions have stronger structures and consumer always wins. Objective advertising manures competition. According to the Adam Smith Institute, Adam Smith, LL.D., in An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), "...showed convincingly how the principles of free trade, competition, and choice would spur economic development, reduce poverty, and precipitate the social and moral improvement of humankind."  "So persuasive were his arguments that they not only provided the world with a new understanding of the wealth-creating process; they laid the intellectual foundation for the great era of free trade and economic expansion that dominated the Nineteenth Century."
Businesses advertise, yes! In commonwealth and non commonwealth countries lawyers advertise! If you don’t its impossible to get clients. It’s only the media, the method, frequency and size of audience that differ. Lawyers did advertise in America even before 1908 when the American Bar Association adopted the Canons of Professional Ethics, in particular Canon 27 which restricted lawyers advertising to the use of   business cards. This was mainly meant to protect the public perception of the profession but ended up with loss of public confidence mainly attributed to profession's poor handling of basic client relationships, absence of attention to communication and general misunderstanding on lawyer fees. In 1977, Seventy years later, the American Supreme court threw out the blanket restriction against lawyer advertising as unconstitutional, holding that bar rules which banned lawyer advertising were infringements of an attorney's First Amendment right to commercial speech. (Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977). For the last 30 years this decision has been hampered by hilarious infringements of ethics and the common good which has led to various court rulings to provide directions and even in different states Bar associations have set guidelines. An example of such cases is In re Anis, 599 A.2d 1265 (N.J. 1992). Where a lawyer in New Jersey was publically reprimanded for sending letters to solicit business from accident victims knowing well that their mental and physical state could not permit good judgment and thoughtful choice. Most associations focus their advertising guidelines on the following six pillars
The advertisements should be truthful; both literally and in the impression it should give a fair and true picture.
They should be accurate and the language used should be clear to lay audience. It should include disclaimers, qualifiers and explanatory notes that are of such type size and prominence to be easily read by anyone accessing this information portal.
Uphold fairness in such that any endorsement by public figures or celebrities ,dramatization and recreation of events should represent underlying facts and contain disclaimer that the persons depicted are just actors for advertising purpose alone  not clients of the firm.
The information relayed should be relevant to help the client make a thoughtful choice and should not include comparison with other lawyers’ services
The animation and other stylistic representation should be rational not to unduly manipulate the clients into ignoring the underlying facts.
The advertisements have to state clearly the jurisdictions where the lawyer is authorized to practice.

ICT AS AN ENABLER
Advances in ICT and e-marketing have been aerating various sub sectors of the economy, judicature is not an exception .Introduction of technologies in this sectors has led to drastic changes in rules and dynamics of the goods and services markets 
If adopted, Advocates Practice, Marketing and Advertising rules 2007 it will spearhead the move by Kenyan lawyers, from 50cms by 35cms plaques to digital advertising which has a lot of benefits to different stakeholders. Law firms will able to market themselves to a larger clientele and hence more business opportunities. Lawyers can capture this opportunity to educate the wider community on important issues in the legal processes hence reduce the perceived distance between public and legal institutions  .Use of digital advertising boosts trust and confidence among members of the public.
The move will oxygenate the link between the ICT professionals and the legal fraternity especially lawyers in  Kenya where previous interaction has been in only in areas of core software development like Case management systems that are utilized by a segment of the market and automation of court documents .With availability of web based tools of advertising and brochures ,webdesigners,graphic designers, e-marketing consultant and perhaps professionals in data mining who will be handy in analysis ,evaluation and prediction of markets using web generated data will have lawyers top in their clients lists.
ICT will have positive impact on the legal educational system, in future the lawyers must have above basics knowledge of ICT and marketing to stay afloat in the competitive market, this have to be propped by introduction of training modules in legal courses .Even some Commonwealth Countries like  India have done this and as a result they have Techno-legal firms  .As Lord Chancellor’s Department in England and Wales Consultation Paper: Resolving and Avoiding Disputes in the Information Age (1998) puts it…
There can be no doubt that we are moving rapidly into information age, into era where rich body of technology will transform our lives, bringing changes as fundamental as the Industrial Revolution brought to society in the 18th century. No one will be exempt from these changes”
With  a wide history the legal practice has strong background which can be assimilated and enhanced through  improved research that can be tech -aided .
This new technologies come with challenges .The expected constraints that the users of this technologies especially the internet must be aware of include the Access rights ,the access to various information portals must be well defined “who should see what”. In the theory of information security ownership of information is very important for sources authentication.
Users must also be aware of cyber extortion where fraudsters’ purports to be offering various needed services .Lawyers and other Information disseminators must be able to minimize denial of service attacks on their clients .Spamming is also  major nuisance in electronic advertising ,where a client receives unsolicited mails purported to originate from a given entity .
Who knows soon we might have Kenyan legal blogs .For more on current legal blogs see http://legalblogwatch.com.
The author is an ICT enthusiast

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