Ohio Lawyers Limited in Advertising Their Services During Legal Seminars

On August 7, 2015, the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct made it clear in Formal Opinion No. 2015-2, that lawyers may present a legal seminar to prospective clients. Furthermore, following a legal seminar, lawyers may provide law firm brochures and information near the exit of the seminar, but cannot answer attendees’ legal questions or personally hand out promotional brochures. Nevertheless, attorneys do have several options when it comes to reaching new clients.

A lawyer may present an informational legal seminar to prospective clients, and even provide law firm brochures and information at the seminar; however, the brochures and information must be left near the exit of the seminar, so that the lawyer, or a third party on the lawyer’s behalf, does not personally distribute the materials to attendees. Outside legal seminars, lawyers are permitted to place brochures in advertising bags with other ads, mail brochures, or even place brochures on counters at public locations and private businesses.

Additionally, a lawyer may not stay after a legal seminar to discuss personalized legal needs of any attendee, even if the attendee signs up to meet with the lawyer in advance of the seminar. If an attendee is interested in meeting with the lawyer, the lawyer must inform the attendee to schedule an appointment with the lawyer’s office. Lawyers may accept employment as a result of the seminar, so long as the lawyer follows the rules of professional conduct for their respective state.

Because of the importance of seminars and the provision of legal information to individuals who cannot afford to hire a lawyer, volunteer lawyers who provide pro bono legal services along with the presentation of a seminar are allowed to do so. The provision of pro bono legal advice at a legal seminar would increase access to justice and would not be done simply to increase a lawyer’s business.

The final issue addressed by the Board related to the “prior professional relationship” exception under Professional Conduct Rule 7.3. The rule prohibits in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic solicitation of clients. However, an exception is carved out for people who have a prior professional relationship with the lawyer. The Board concluded in its opinion that the “prior professional relationship” exception does not apply to employees of an organizational client. Thus, a lawyer that represents an organization may not make an offer to represent employees of the organizational client at a legal seminar. However, a lawyer may make general statements to attendees regarding firm information, services provided, availability, and contact information. Nevertheless, pursuant to Professional Conduct Rule 1.13, if there appears to be a conflict of interest in representing both the employer organization and the employee, then the lawyer for the organization likely cannot provide legal representation to the individual employees. Thus, a lawyer must conduct a thorough conflict of interest analysis prior to offering representation to individual employees.

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