Solicitors' Code of Conduct 2007
Rule 7: Publicity
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Rule 7.07(2)(d) was amended on 1 October 2010 by the Solicitors' Code of Conduct and SRA Recognised Bodies Regulations (Miscellaneous) Amendment Rules 2010 to reflect various legislative changes. View rule 7 with 1 October 2010 changes highlighted
Rule 7.03(1) was amended on 14 January 2009 by the Solicitors' Code of Conduct (Cold Calling) Amendment Rule 2009 to make clear the definition of "unsolicited visits". View rule 7 with 14 January 2009 changes highlighted
Rule 7 of the Code of Conduct was amended on 31 March 2009 as part of a general updating of the rules to introduce firm-based regulation and legal disciplinary practices as provided for in the Legal Services Act 2007. View rule 7 with 31 March 2009 changes highlighted
You are generally free to publicise your firm or practice, subject to the requirements of this rule. The rule as it applies to your overseas practice is modified by 15.07.
7.01 Misleading or inaccurate publicity
Publicity must not be misleading or inaccurate.
7.02 Clarity as to charges
Any publicity relating to your, or your firm's, charges must be clearly expressed. In relation to practice from an office in England and Wales it must be clear whether disbursements and VAT are included.
7.03 Unsolicited approaches in person or by telephone
You must not publicise your firm or practice by making unsolicited approaches in person or by telephone to a member of the public.
"Member of the public" does not include:
a current or former client;
another firm or its manager;
an existing or potential professional or business connection; or
a commercial organisation or public body.
7.04 International aspects of publicity
Publicity intended for a jurisdiction outside England and Wales must comply with:
the provisions of rule 7 (and 15.07, if applicable); and
the rules in force in that jurisdiction concerning lawyers' publicity.
Publicity intended for a jurisdiction where it is permitted will not breach 7.04 through being incidentally received in a jurisdiction where it is not permitted.
7.05 Responsibility for publicity
You must not authorise any other person to conduct publicity for your firm or practice in a way which would be contrary to rule 7 (and , if applicable).
Rule 7 applies to any publicity you or your firm conduct(s) or authorise(s) in the course of setting up or carrying on the practice in relation to:
the firm or your practice;
any other business or activity carried on by you or your firm; or
any other business or activity carried on by others.
Rules 7.01 to 7.05 apply to all forms of publicity including the name or description of your firm, stationery, advertisements, brochures, websites, directory entries, media appearances, promotional press releases, and direct approaches to potential clients and other persons, and whether conducted in person, in writing, or in electronic form.
7.07 Letterhead, website and e-mails
The letterhead, website and e-mails of a recognised body or recognised sole practitioner must show the words "regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority", and either
the firm's registered name and number if it is an LLP or company, or
if the firm is a partnership or sole practitioner, the name under which it is recognised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and the number allocated to it by the Authority.
The letterhead of a recognised sole practitioner must include the name of the sole practitioner.
The letterhead of a recognised body which is a partnership of 20 or fewer partners, must include a list of the partners.
The letterhead of a recognised body which is a partnership of more than 20 partners, must include either
a list of the partners; or
a statement that a list of the partners is open to inspection at the office.
The letterhead of a recognised body which is an LLP must include either
a list of the members, identified as members; or
a statement that a list of the members is open to inspection at the office.
The letterhead of a recognised body which is a company with a sole director must include the name of the director, identified as director.
The letterhead of a recognised body which is a company with more than one director must include either
a list of the directors, identified as directors; or
a statement that a list of the directors is open to inspection at the office.
In a recognised body, if the managers include persons other than solicitors, any list referred to in this rule must:
identify any solicitor as a solicitor;
in the case of any lawyer or notary of an Establishment Directive state other than the UK:
identify the jurisdiction(s)–local or national as appropriate–under whose professional title the lawyer or notary is practising;
give the professional title(s), expressed in an official language of the Establishment Directive state(s) concerned; and
if the lawyer is an REL , refer to that lawyer's registration with the Solicitors Regulation Authority;
indicate the professional qualification(s) of any other lawyer and the country or jurisdiction of qualification of any RFL not included in (b) above;
identify any individual non-lawyer as a non-lawyer; and
identify the nature of any body corporate, if this is not clear from its name.
Whenever an REL is named on the letterhead used by any firm or in-house practice, there must be compliance with 7.07(3)(b).
In 7.07 "letterhead" includes a fax heading.
Guidance to rule 7 - Publicity
Geographical scope of the rule
Rule 7 applies to publicity in connection with practice from any office, whether in England and Wales or overseas - but the provisions are amended by 15.07 for publicity in connection with overseas practice.
Rule 7 does not apply to the website, e-mails, text messages or similar electronic communications of any practice you conduct from an office in an EU state other than the UK (see 15.07(2)).
Rule 7.07 (Letterhead, website and e-mails) does not apply to a solicitor's practice conducted from an office outside England and Wales or to an REL's practice conducted from an office in Scotland or Northern Ireland. However, you must comply with 15.07(3) .
In the delivery of professional services, there is an imbalance of knowledge between clients and the public on the one hand, and the service provider on the other. Rule 7 addresses this in a number of ways - for example, by ensuring that clients and the public have appropriate information about you, your firm and the way you are regulated; and by prohibiting misleading publicity and inappropriate approaches for business.
Local law society involvement in dealing with minor breaches
In the case of breaches of the rule which are not serious, the SRA encourages local law societies to bring the breaches to the attention of the practitioners concerned. Serious or persistent cases should be reported to the SRA.
Identifying your firm
Rule 7.07(1), as amended on 31 March 2009, applies to the letterhead, fax heading, website and e-mails of a recognised body or recognised sole practitioner. The effect of the rule is that:
a sole practitioner must state his or her SRA number and the name under which he or she is recognised;
a partnership must state its SRA number and the name under which it is recognised; and
an LLP or company must state its registered number from Companies House and its corporate name.
Statutory requirements and voluntary codes
You must comply with the general law on advertising, including:
any regulations made under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, concerning the content of advertisements;
sections 20 and 21 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987, regarding misleading price indications;
the Business Names Act 1985, concerning lists of partners and an address for service on stationery etc.;
the Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/495) regarding the appearance of the company name and other particulars on stationery, etc.;
the Consumer Credit (Advertisements) Regulations 1989 (SI 1989/1125), in relation to advertisements to arrange mortgages;
the Control of Misleading Advertisements (Amendment) Regulations 2000 (SI 2000/914), in relation to comparative advertising;
the Data Protection Act 1998;
E-Commerce Directive 2000/31/EC and the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (SI 2002/2013); and
the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (SI 2003/2426).
You should also have regard to the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing ("the Advertising Code"). The main principle of the Advertising Code is that media advertisements be legal, decent, honest and truthful. For further information see the website of the Advertising Standards Authority.
A breach of a statutory provision or the Advertising Code may also entail a breach of rule 7 or another rule of conduct, but would not necessarily do so. For example, an advert adjudged by the Advertising Standards Authority to be untruthful under the Advertising Code might also, in the context of a complaint, be found by the SRA to breach 7.01 (which requires that publicity is not misleading or inaccurate).
Responsibility for publicity - 7.05
Where you become aware of breaches of rule 7 in publicity conducted on your or your firm's behalf, you should take reasonable steps to have the publicity changed or withdrawn.
Clarity as to charges - 7.02
Publicity relating to charges must not be misleading or inaccurate, and must be clearly expressed. The following examples in notes 10 to 12 below will assist in complying.
Particular care should be taken when quoting fees which are intended to be net fees, i.e. fees which are reduced by the availability of commission (such as that on an endowment policy). Any fee quoted in these circumstances should be the gross fee.
The following are examples of publicity which would breach 7.01 and/or 7.02:
publicity which includes an estimated fee pitched at an unrealistically low level;
publicity which refers to an estimated or fixed fee plus disbursements, if expenses which are in the nature of overheads (such as normal postage and telephone calls) are then charged as disbursements; and
publicity which includes an estimated or fixed fee for conveyancing services, if you then make an additional charge for work on a related mortgage loan or repayment, including work done for a lender - unless the publicity makes it clear that any such additional charge may be payable (e.g. by the use of a phrase like "excluding VAT, disbursements, mortgage related charges and fees for work done for a lender").
Offers of discounts could be misleading if there are no clear rates of charges included. Similarly, if you publicise a service or services as being "free", this should genuinely be the case and should not be conditional upon some other factor (e.g. receiving further instructions or some other benefit). If you publicise work as being done on a pro bono basis there must be no fees charged to the client, except where a conditional fee agreement is used and the only fees charged are those which the firm receives by way of costs from the client's opponent or other third party and which are paid to a charity under a fee sharing agreement.
Agreeing to donate fees to charity
If you publicise that you will donate all, or a percentage, of the firm's fees in respect of certain matters to charity, it would be misleading not to do so. The same applies if you agree to pay to a charity fees received by way of costs from your client's opponent or other third party where you act under a conditional fee agreement.
Name of firm
It would be misleading for a name or description to include the word "solicitor(s)", if none of the managers are solicitors.
It would be misleading for a sole principal to use "and partners" or "and associates" in a firm name unless the firm did formerly have more than one principal.
E-commerce, e-mail and websites
The E-Commerce Directive 2000/31/EC covers cross-border e-commerce within the EU, including e-mails and websites. It affects any firm with a website, because a website can be accessed from other member states.
The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (SI 2002/2013) implementing the Directive require you to give certain information to persons visiting your firm's website or receiving e-mails from the firm (other than certain activities outside the scope of the Directive, e.g. litigation). The information you will need to give includes:
details of the professional body with which the firm is registered – see note 18;
your professional title and the member state where it was granted – it is recommended that you either state that the partners/members/directors of the firm are solicitors of England and Wales (if that is the case) or list the professional title and jurisdiction of qualification (or state "non-lawyer") for each of the partners/members/directors; and
a reference to the professional rules applicable to the firm in the member state where you are established and the means to access them – see note 18.
If you are "established" in the UK (i.e. your office is in the UK), it is appropriate to say that the firm is regulated by the SRA. For the rules, you are recommended to provide a link to the SRA's website on www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/code-of-conduct.page. If you are "established" in another Establishment Directive state, the professional body will be the bar or law society with which you are registered under the Establishment Directive, and the applicable rules will be their rules. Of course, your firm may be "established" in more than one Establishment Directive state.
Any promotional material is publicity. E-mails sent to individuals, companies or organisations with the intention of promoting your practice are advertisements and therefore publicity. Any promotional material in a business e-mail - such as the name and description of the firm - will also be publicity. In these cases 7.01 to 7.07 will apply.
Rule 7.07(1) applies to the letterhead, fax heading, website and e-mails of a recognised body or recognised sole practitioner.
Rule 7.07(2)-(4), which applies only to letterheads and fax headings, reflects some of the provisions of the Business Names Act 1985 and the Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008, which apply to "business letters". It is for the courts to determine whether or to what extent these Acts may apply to e-mails. However, the SRA's guess is that e-mails will only be "business letters" when they are formally set out as such and not when they are used as an alternative to a telephone call, telegram or telex. It would be prudent for you to ensure that third parties with whom you deal by e-mail are given your practising address at an early stage, together with the details which would normally appear on the firm's letterhead.
Rule 7.03 prohibits unsolicited approaches in person or by telephone to members of the public. E-mails do not fall within this prohibition. However, you should check the terms of your agreement with your internet service provider as to the use of unsolicited e-mail, and in some jurisdictions the law prohibits unsolicited e-mail. See also note 33 below on data protection.
If your website or e-mails are to include any financial promotion as defined in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, your firm will need to be authorised by the Financial Services Authority. See also notes 31 and 32 below.
International aspects of publicity - 7.04
The effect of the E-Commerce Directive is that there are two different regimes governing international e-publicity:
cross-border e-publicity within the EU; and
other cross-border e-publicity, i.e. the e-publicity of law firms established outside the EU, wherever it is accessed or received; and the e-publicity of law firms established in the EU, if it is accessed or received outside the EU.
Cross-border e-publicity within the EU is governed by the E-Commerce Directive and national implementing legislation. Other cross-border e-publicity is not. However, as a website can be accessed from anywhere, your firm's website will have to comply with the E-Commerce Directive and the relevant implementing legislation if your firm is established anywhere within the EU.
Rule 7.04 provides that publicity intended for a jurisdiction outside England and Wales must comply with rule 7 (or, in the case of overseas practice, 15.07) and with the rules in force in that jurisdiction concerning lawyers' publicity. Publicity intended for a jurisdiction where it is permitted will not breach this provision through being incidentally received in a jurisdiction where it is not permitted.
Websites can, of course, be accessed worldwide. The relevant factor is the jurisdiction or jurisdictions at which a website is targeted. For example, a website aimed at Australia must comply with rule 7 (if the solicitor's office is in England and Wales) or 15.07 (if the office is elsewhere), and any other restrictions in force in Australia concerning lawyers' publicity.
Unsolicited mailshots may be sent and may be targeted. However, you should note the data protection considerations discussed in note 33 below.
Rule 7.03(1) prohibits you from making unsolicited approaches, either in person or by telephone, to a "member of the public". This is intended to protect the public from the intrusiveness and pressure of unsolicited telephone calls and approaches in person. This rule, therefore, bans what is often termed "cold calling" and prohibits, for example, knocking on doors, approaching people newly arrived at ports of entry, approaching someone in the street, in a hospital or at the scene of an accident, or handing out leaflets in the street. The rule also prohibits approaching a member of the public (either in person, e.g. in the street or by telephone) to conduct a survey which involves the collection of contact details of potential clients, or otherwise promotes your firm's practice.
A combination of 7.03, 7.05 (Responsibility for publicity) and 9.02 (Financial arrangements with introducers) means that you must not have a financial arrangement with an introducer in respect of business which has been obtained (either by that introducer or through an intermediary) by way of unsolicited face-to-face or telephone "cold calling".
This means that, if a member of the public has indicated in a general consumer survey that they may have a claim, you cannot contact them in person or by telephone unless:
they have explicitly agreed to be contacted about making a claim; and
their response to the questionnaire was not obtained as a result of an unsolicited approach, in person or by telephone, by your firm, or by any party authorised by your firm, or by any other party if your firm has a financial arrangement with the introducer.
Under section 21 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 an unsolicited communication which invites or induces a person to enter into an investment activity is a financial promotion, and cannot be made by an unauthorised person.
If you intend to make any form of unsolicited contact allowed under 7.03, where it relates to an investment activity you must consider carefully whether you are authorised to carry out the activity, and also consider whether your contact constitutes a financial promotion and whether you are authorised to make such an approach. Breach of the Act is a criminal offence.
Rule 7.03(2)(a) permits unsolicited visits or telephone calls to a current or former client. Before contacting clients or former clients in order to publicise your firm you should consider the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998. It is advisable to give all clients the opportunity to refuse to receive direct marketing correspondence or contact - for example, in a terms of business letter. This applies to unsolicited mailshots to current or former clients as well as unsolicited approaches in person or by telephone. Under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (SI 2003/2426), prior opt-in consent is needed for direct marketing by e-mail.
If non-partners are named on a partnership's letterhead, their status should be made clear. A printed line is not sufficient in itself to distinguish partners from non-partners in a list. A similar standard applies to a company or an LLP's letterhead.
A manager who is held out on the letterhead of an unincorporated firm as a partner - even if separately designated as a "salaried" or "associate" partner - is treated by the SRA as a full partner and manager, and therefore must comply with the Solicitors' Accounts Rules and the Solicitors' Indemnity Insurance Rules. Holding out as a partner someone who is not entitled under rule 14 to be a partner will put you and your firm in breach both of rule 7 and rule 14.
"Partners" in an LLP
In the context of an LLP, it is permitted, if desired, to refer to members of the LLP as "partners", provided the firm complies with the provisions of the Companies Act 1985, the Companies Act 2006, the Business Names Act 1985 and 7.07(2) as regards the items that must appear on the firm's notepaper, including use of the word "members" in heading up or referring to the list of members.
Some firms may also wish to designate some non-members of the LLP as "partners". This is potentially misleading, so if a firm wishes to go down this path care must be taken to ensure that:
no non-member is designated as a "partner" unless he or she:
is a consultant or employee of the LLP with equivalent standing to a member; and
is a practising lawyer, and would be entitled under rule 14 to become a member of the LLP;
appropriate explanatory wording (see note 38 below) appears on:
the firm's notepaper, faxes, e-mails, brochures and websites; and
any bill on which the word "partner" appears;
proper distinction is made between a member of the LLP and a person who is not a member but who is referred to as a "partner":
in any agreement, terms of business letter or client care letter in which the word "partner" appears;
when addressing any client or third party who is not in receipt of a letter, fax or e-mail; and
in any formal context such as an affidavit, a statement to a court, or a communication with the Legal Services Commission.
Appropriate explanatory wording for a firm's notepaper, faxes, e-mails, brochures, websites or bills would be to the effect that:
"We use the word 'partner' to refer to a member of the LLP, or an employee or consultant who is a lawyer with equivalent standing and qualifications."
If a firm wishes to refer to a list of "partners" as well as the statutory list of members, it is suggested that this might be done by way of some such wording as:
"A list of the members of the LLP is displayed at the above address, together with a list of those non-members who are designated as partners."
Notes 36 to 38 above deal only with what is or is not professionally proper. They do not deal with any legal consequences for individuals or the firm if members or non-members are held out as "partners".
"Partners" in a company
In the context of practice carried on by way of a company, it may be desired to designate some participants in the practice as "partners". This is potentially misleading, so if you wish to go down this path care must be taken to ensure that:
the company complies with the provisions of the Companies Act 1985, the Companies Act 2006, the Business Names Act 1985 and 7.07(2) as regards the items that must appear on the firm's notepaper, including use of the word "directors" in heading up or referring to the list of directors;
no person is designated as a "partner" unless he or she:
is a shareowner or director of the company, or a consultant in or employee of the company with equivalent standing; and
is a practising lawyer, and would be entitled under rule 14 to own shares in the company;
appropriate explanatory wording (see note 41 below) appears on:
the company's notepaper, faxes, e-mails, brochures and websites; and
any bill on which the word "partner" appears; and
no misunderstanding arises as to the status of a "partner":
when addressing any client or third party who is not in receipt of a letter, fax or e-mail; or
Appropriate explanatory wording for a company's notepaper, faxes, e-mails, brochures, websites or bills would be to the effect that:
"We use the word 'partner' to refer to a shareowner or director of the company, or an employee or consultant who is a lawyer with equivalent standing and qualifications."
If you wish to refer to a list of "partners" as well as the statutory list of directors, it is suggested that this might be done by way of some such wording as:
"A list of the directors is displayed at the above address, together with a list of those persons who are designated as partners."
Notes 40 and 41 above deal only with what is or is not professionally proper. They do not deal with any legal consequences if shareowners or other participants are held out as "partners".
Identifying the qualifications of managers (and RELs)
Rule 7.07(3) and (4) sets out the requirements to be followed when an REL, an RFL, any other lawyer, a non-lawyer manager or a body corporate is named as a manager on a recognised body's letterhead, and whenever an REL is named in any capacity on a letterhead used by a firm or in-house practice. The following example illustrates how to comply:
"Paul van den Hoek, advocaat (Brussels), registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority".
You may name staff on your letterhead. However, it would be misleading (and could involve a criminal offence) to use the word "solicitor" to refer to an individual who is not a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
A lawyer whose professional title is "solicitor" in another jurisdiction but who is not a solicitor of England and Wales can only be referred to in publicity as "solicitor" if the word is suitably qualified, for example by the name of that lawyer's jurisdiction of qualification.
The fact that you have acted for a client and details of the client's transactions are subject to the duty of confidentiality - see rule 4 (Confidentiality and disclosure) - and you will therefore normally need the client's consent before disclosing such information in any publicity.
Fee earner leaving a firm
It is not in itself misconduct for you to write to clients of a firm after leaving that firm, inviting their instructions. However, this cannot absolve you from any legal obligations arising out of your former contract of employment or partnership agreement.
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