Have you encountered what you believe to be misleading advertising by someone in the legal profession? The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensures freedom of speech, and lawyers and law firms are allowed to advertise their services in newspapers, in directories, in magazines, on the radio, on television, and on the Internet.
However, Georgia law (O.C.G.A. Section 10-1-427) prohibits the intentional false advertisement of legal services. Legal ads must not contain statements that are fraudulent, deceptive, untrue or misleading.
Under the rules of conduct of the State Bar of Georgia, a legal ad can be considered a false advertisement if it:
- Misrepresents the facts by leaving out necessary information;
- Creates unjustified expectations of what the attorney can do;
- Compares the advertising lawyer’s services to those of another lawyer or lawyers without substantiation;
- Mentions contingency fees without further explanation; or
- Claims “No fee unless you collect or win,” without pointing out possible associated costs that are usually paid by the client.
Be sure to read the ad’s disclaimers for important additional information. For instance, a disclaimer is the required method of disclosing what may and may not be included in an attorney’s contingency fees.
Any legal advertisement must include the name of the lawyer or law firm who created the ad and who is responsible for its content. Georgia law does not hold the company publicizing the ad responsible for misrepresentations or omissions, unless it can be proved that the publisher or media outlet was aware of these in advance.
While advertisements may include any professional associations to which the lawyer belongs, a lawyer may not imply any connection to organizations with which he or she has no affiliation. If the ad offers only the services of one particular attorney or law firm, a majority of the responding callers may not be referred to another attorney or law firm.
You may file a complaint of false advertisement of legal services with the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection, which investigates such complaints and reports violations to the State Bar of Georgia.