Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Lawyer Removes Pot Leaf from Office Signage

Here’s some free marketing advice: it’s probably a bad idea to put an oversized image of a marijuana leaf on your law shingle.

Especially if you practice in a state where pot is illegal. And even more especially if your office is located right across the street from the county sheriff.

Just ask the Texas criminal law attorney whose bright green sign at her Weatherford office went up in smoke after a flood of complaints to her landlord and a visit from the city code compliance officer. The attorney had previously added a pot leaf to her business logo – resulting in a spike in new marijuana cases – and she wanted to do the same with her signage, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

No such luck. The sign lasted only one day.

“I knew the sign was going to make a splash,” the attorney says here. “I was later informed by my landlord that the sign had to come down the next day.”

It doesn’t appear that the sign violated any laws or regulations. It simply attracted the wrong kind of attention. The fact that it was in clear view of the Parker County Sheriff’s Office didn’t help.

Rule 7.1 Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services

NC State Bar Rule 7.1 says:

(a) A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it:

(1) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;

(2) is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or

(3) compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.

(b) A communication by a lawyer that contains a dramatization depicting a fictional situation is misleading unless it complies with paragraph (a) above and contains a conspicuous written or oral statement, at the beginning and the end of the communication, explaining that the communication contains a dramatization and does not depict actual events or real persons.

Comments

[1] This Rule governs all communications about a lawyer’s services, including advertising permitted by Rule 7.2. Whatever means are used to make known a lawyer’s services, statements about them must be truthful.

[2] Truthful statements that are misleading are also prohibited by this Rule. A truthful statement is misleading if it omits a fact necessary to make the lawyer’s communication considered as a whole not materially misleading. A truthful statement is also misleading if there is a substantial likelihood that it will lead a reasonable person to formulate a specific conclusion about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services for which there is no reasonable factual foundation.

[3] An advertisement that truthfully reports a lawyer’s achievements on behalf of clients or former clients may be misleading if presented so as to lead a reasonable person to form an unjustified expectation that the same results could be obtained for other clients in similar matters without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances of each client's case. Similarly, an unsubstantiated comparison of the lawyer’s services or fees with the services or fees of other lawyers may be misleading if presented with such specificity as would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the comparison can be substantiated. The inclusion of an appropriate disclaimer or qualifying language may preclude a finding that a statement is likely to create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead the public.

[4] See also Rule 8.4(e) for the prohibition against stating or implying an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

jay.reeves@ymail.com | 919-619-2441

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Over the course of his 35-year career he was a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms put more mojo in their practice through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations.

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