South Carolina Attorneys May Tout Certification as Privacy Professional

Can attorneys use a Privacy Professional as their designation in a signature block? Are attorneys implicating ethics rules, such as advertising, by doing so? The South Carolina Bar recently issued an Ethics Advisory Opinion stating that a lawyer who is a Certified Information Privacy Professional/US (“CIPP/US”) may use that designation in her e-mail signature block and other communications.

A hypothetical was posed to the Ethics Advisory Committee by a member of the South Carolina Bar: In the hypothetical, an attorney, working for an entity that collects and processes private data, obtained a CIPP certification by passing an exam that was “designed to be challenging” and that “required study and preparation.” The attorney was curious as to whether she may use the designation “CIPP/US” in her e-mail signature block. The use of the designation was found to be permissible because “the designation truthfully reflects a recognized professional certification available to both lawyers and non-lawyers[s], is objectively verifiable, and is not misleading.” The committee reasoned that use of the designation does not violate Rules 7.1, 7.2, or 7.4. of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct.

Rule 7.1 provides that a lawyer “shall not make false, misleading, or deceptive communications about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.” As the committee explained, use of the designation is “neither false nor misleading” because the “designation is given by a recognized association” and “granted by the association based on objectively verifiable criteria.”

Rule 7.2(a) “allows advertising through written, recorded or electronic communication, including public media.” Here, the committee explained that use of the designation is information because it “alerts a person that Lawyer has taken and passed examinations in privacy protection topics.”

Finally, Although Rule 7.4(b) prohibits the use of “any form of the words ‘certified,’ ‘specialist,’ ‘expert,’ or ‘authority’ when describing areas of limited or concentrated practice,” use of the designation is permissible. Referencing S.C. Bar Ethics Adv. Op. 93-97, the committee reasoned that an “attorney who was licensed as both an attorney and a Certified Professional Accountant” could use both professional designations, despite Rule 7.4(b).

For more information on this recent advisory opinion click here.

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