Q: Who regulates lawyer advertising in Ohio?
A: The Supreme Court of Ohio regulates the conduct of lawyers who practice in Ohio, including lawyer advertising.
Q: May lawyers send unsolicited communications by mail?
A: Yes. However, unsolicited communications sent within 30 days of an accident or other disaster must include a comprehensive section titled "Understanding Your Rights" that complies with all of the Supreme Court's requirements and includes information you may need after you have suffered an accident or other disaster.
Q: What must be included in the "Understanding Your Rights" section of an unsolicited communication?
A: There are nine points in this section, including commentary about:
1) obtaining and keeping useful records such as police reports, names of witnesses, photographs and receipts;
2) how and when to use your signature, and the possible effect of any statements made to others because statements you make can be used against you;
3) the conflict between your interests and the interests of other parties, including insurance companies;
4) time limits for insurance claims and lawsuits because you would not be able to make a claim or bring a lawsuit after a certain amount of time has passed;
5) the benefits of getting offers of settlement or other promises in writing, because oral promises can be difficult to enforce;
6) the possible need for legal assistance;
7) lawyer referral programs and other information about how to find a lawyer;
8) lawyer qualifications; and
9) lawyer fees and costs.
In addition to these nine points, the lawyer solicitation must state that the Supreme Court of Ohio neither promotes nor prohibits lawyer solicitation.
Q: Why does the Supreme Court of Ohio neither promote nor prohibit lawyer advertising?
A: Early in our nation's history, the practice of law was largely unregulated. In the late 19th Century, state courts and state and local bar associations began to regulate the legal profession, and they generally restricted lawyer solicitation and advertising. For most of the 20th Century, many state courts and many state and local bar associations banned most lawyer solicitation and advertising. Then, in the 1970s, the United States Supreme Court made a series of rulings giving freedom of speech protection to commercial advertising and advertising by professionals such as lawyers. In response, some professionals, including lawyers, began to solicit and advertise. Since then, state courts and state and local bar associations have established rules and guidelines regulating lawyer solicitation and advertising.
Q: May a lawyer solicit potential clients by telephone?
A: No. A lawyer may not solicit clients by live telephone or real-time electronic contact in Ohio--nor may a lawyer solicit employment in a face-to-face meeting with a prospective client in Ohio. However, potential clients may telephone or initiate a meeting with a lawyer, and the lawyer may respond.
Q: What about other forms of solicitation and advertising?
A: In Ohio, lawyers may advertise services through the Internet, television, radio, and printed media, provided they follow the advertising standards set by the Supreme Court of Ohio. However, lawyers may not use in-person, live, telephone or real-time electronic means to solicit employment.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). This article was prepared by Scott F. Sturges of McNamara & McNamara in Columbus. It was updated by Gene Whetzel, general counsel for the OSBA.