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Panel asks for solicitation rule revisions

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TFB Seal MetalicLawyers should be allowed to hand out business cards to people who discuss legal matters with them in business or casual social situations and exchange online social media information in forums designed for business and professional networking, according to two Bar committees.

The Standing Committee on Advertising approved a draft amendment to the comment to Rule 4-7.18 at its June 27 meeting at the Bar’s Annual Convention and the Professional Ethics Committee, with a couple tweaks, passed a revised version the next day.

The PEC originally raised the issue, but sent it to the advertising committee for its input.

The draft comment, as modified, reads: “A lawyer may initiate the routine mutual exchange of business cards with prospective clients who are attending the same business or professional conference or meeting or business-related social gathering if the lawyer initiates no further discussion of a specific legal matter. Similarly, a lawyer may initiate the exchange of contact information and profiles via a specific social media platform that is established for the purpose of businesses and professionals exchanging this type of information if the lawyer initiates no discussion of specific legal matters. If a prospective client then initiates discussion of a specific legal matter, the lawyer should decline to discuss the matter at the initial contact and defer further discussion to a more appropriate location when the discussion would endanger a prospective client’s confidentiality. Lawyers should not interpret the above to allow a lawyer who knows a person has a specific legal problem to go to a specific conference or meeting where that prospective client will be in attendance in order to initiate the exchange of business cards. An accident scene, a hospital room of an injured person, or a doctor’s office are not business or professional conferences or meetings within the meaning of the discussion above.”

According to background information provided to the advertising committee, the PEC subcommittee initiated a review of the issue because, “The subcommittee believes that the proposed change is necessary to reflect the changing social communication norms during the past 10 years and specifically to reflect the emergence of social media and in-person contacts. The subcommittee is concerned that a strict reading of the current rule permits unwarranted prosecutorial discretion. The subcommittee believes that simply exchanging business cards or contact information in person or via social media should not subject a lawyer to discipline. The exchange of business cards or online profiles is so nominal and unlikely to result in undue influence that those activities should be clarified as an application of existing rules rather than interpreted as prohibited solicitation.”

The proposed comment amendment now goes to the Bar Board of Governors, and if approved there to the Supreme Court.