Connecticut recently became the first state to adopt the American Bar Association’s modernized model rules on attorney advertising.
The new rule will bring Connecticut lawyers “clarity and simplicity,” said Stephen J. Conover, a litigation partner with Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey in Stamford, Conn.
Conover is also a member of the Connecticut Bar Association’s professional ethics and professional discipline committees.
Connecticut’s adoption of the rules highlights a trend “towards simplification of the advertising rule structure” that other states will likely follow, said Marcy Tench Stovall, a professional liability attorney with Pullman & Comley in Bridgeport, Conn.
The current rules of professional conduct governing lawyer advertising are “outdated and unworkable in most jurisdictions,” Kendra L. Basner, a partner with O’Rielly & Roche in San Francisco, said.
As national practices grow and technology keeps advancing, there needs to be “a more uniform set of advertising rules across the states that strike a balance between consumer protection and the constitutional right of lawyers to communicate with the public,” Basner said.
The ABA updated Model Rules of Professional Conduct 7.1 through 7.5 a year ago to reflect technological advances since the 1980s, when they were issued.
The changes were based on reports from the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers that the rules needed to be modernized and simplified. In 2017, Virginia updated its rules based on APRL’s proposals.
Connecticut’s revised Rules of Professional Conduct will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The updates include revisions to rules 7.1 (communications concerning a lawyer’s services); 7.2 (specific rules concerning communication about services); and 7.3 (solicitation of clients). Rules 7.4 and 7.5 were repealed.
Notable changes that parallel the ABA’s include referring to ads as “communications” and allowing lawyers to give “nominal” gifts as thanks for a client referral.
Before the 2019 amendments, Connecticut’s rules were “internally inconsistent, rarely enforced, and inhibited lawyers from using new technologies to keep pace with the communication methods currently used by the consumer public,” Conover said.
Rule 7.5, for example, was entitled “Firm Names & Letterheads” and didn’t have any day-to-day application in 2019, he said. It focused on direct mail solicitation by the U.S. Post Office and broadcast ads on TV and radio.
Connecticut isn’t known for “initiating or popularizing trends,” Conover admitted.
But the state’s judicial branch recognized the “inefficiencies of the old rules and showed foresight,” he said.
The likely result will be more affordable lawyers services and greater awareness on the part of consumers about how lawyers can help solve their legal problems, Conover added.
There were also changes to Connecticut model rules 1.3, 1.17, and 5.4, most of them minor. One significant change to rule 5.4 is that it now permits a lawyer to share legal fees recovered with a nonprofit organization if the nonprofit employed the lawyer in the matter, Conover said. Unlike the other rules, 5.4 went into effect on July 16.