NEW YORK COUNTY LAWYERS’ ASSOCIATION
Committee on Professional Ethics
QUESTION NO. 681
TOPIC: Advertising; limitation of practice.
DIGEST: A lawyer may advertise that his or her practice is limited to one area of law, as long as the statement is truthful and the lawyer is competent to handle cases in the area, even if the lawyer has no experience in the area.
CODE: DR 2-101(A), DR 2-105(A), EC 6-1, EC 6-3, DR 6-10l(A).
May a lawyer who has taken courses in an area of the law and who wishes to limit his or her practice to that field but who has no practical experience in the area use business cards and other advertising material stating “practice limited to [field of] law”?
In order for a lawyer to undertake representation in any matter, the lawyer must be competent to handle the matter. DR 6-101 (A). EC 6-1 admonishes that the lawyer “should accept employment only in matters which he or she is or intends to become competent to handle.” It is clear that such competence may be the product of study as well as of experience. EC 6-3 notes that a lawyer may accept employment in a matter in which he or she is not qualified “if in good faith the lawyer expects to become qualified through study and investigation.” Indeed, one of the hallmarks of law practice in this state is that lawyers may compete for business based on their study and diligence.
DR 2-105(A) permits a lawyer to identify publicly one or more areas of law in which the lawyer practices, or to state that his or her practice is limited to one or more areas of law. DR 2-101 (A) prohibits a lawyer from using or disseminating any public communication that is false, deceptive or misleading.
We believe that a statement that the lawyer limits his or her practice to a particular area is a statement that the lawyer is competent to practice in the area and handles cases only in that area, and is not a representation of any particular length of experience. For example, a newly admitted lawyer who wished to limit his or her practice to matrimonial law law could use business cards or other advertisements to the effect of “practice limited to matrimonial law”.
We note that, in In re Zimmerman, 79 A.D.2d 263 (4th Dept. 1981), the Appellate Division for the Fourth Department censured a lawyer for advertising himself in the telephone company’s yellow pages under each of the 25 areas of practice listed because he had no experience at all in several of those categories (and presumably would have had difficulty in becoming competent in all of the listed areas at once if clients had approached him in each of the listed areas). However, we believe a different result should be reached when only a single field is involved and the lawyer is competent to handle matters in the field in which the practice is limited. Cf. N.Y. City 81-7 (Use of the name “Immigration Law Clinic of John Doe” proper since it identified the area of law in which the firm actually practiced), N.Y. City 81-65 (Lawyer may advertise specific areas of practice in which he or she is capable).
A lawyer may advertise that his or her practice is limited to one area of law, as long as the statement is truthful and the lawyer is competent to handle cases in the area. A statement of limitation of practice is not a representation of a particular level of experience.
September 17, 1990