Editor's Note: Refer to Rules 7.2 and 7.4.
LEGAL DIRECTORY: LISTING OF AREAS OF PRACTICE.
The Ethics Committee of the Mississippi State Bar has been asked to render an opinion on the propriety of an attorney indicating in a legal directory, in addition to biographical information, limited areas of practice to which a significant portion of time is devoted by the attorney. The legal directory involved is Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directory. The requester asks whether such listings would violate the canons of ethics or the related disciplinary rules which limit an attorney's ability to specialize in a particular area.
EC-2 14 directs that a lawyer should not hold himself out as a specialist in areas other than the historical excepted fields of admiralty, trademark and patent law. Any communication that a lawyer is a specialist, has special training or ability, or limits his practice, except as permitted under DR 2-105 would be improper.
DR2-101(A) states: A lawyer shall not prepare, cause to be prepared, use, or participate in the use of, any form of public communication regarding himself, his partner, associate or firm, that is materially false, deceptive or misleading.
DR 2-101(C) enumerates certain practices deemed to be deceptive or misleading under DR 2-101(A).
Subsection (D)(2) of the above quoted disciplinary rule requires that any public communication referring to an area in law in which a lawyer performs, except those areas governed by DR 2-105, must include a statement advising that the listing of specific areas of practice does not indicate any certification of expertise therein. Excepted from this requirement is a public communication appearing in an approved law list or law directory.
The committee is of the opinion that so long as the listings of areas or fields of law in which the lawyer or firm concentrates are not materially false, deceptive or misleading and so long as the attorney or firm does not claim to be a specialist, except as permitted under DR 2-105, then no ethical impropriety would result. This opinion is consistent with Informal Opinion 1340 of the American Bar Association Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, rendered July 16, 1975. Although the informal opinion involved construction of DR 2-102(A)(6) which has since been amended, the committee was there too concerned with whether the contents of the proposed directory would likely be misleading, or injurious to the public or the profession.