We may be about to see some substantial changes in the way attorneys in Texas market their services. The State Bar of Texas first introduced the current advertising rules 25 years ago, in 1994. The rules have been tweaked a few times since then but 2019 might be the year that we see one or two real game-changers. The revised rules were proposed by the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors and will be voted upon at an upcoming meeting of the Committee on Disciplinary Rules and Referenda (CDRR). The vote is expected to take place in March or April of this year.
What’s changing and how does it affect you? Nothing will change until the new rules are accepted by the CDRR, but here is a preliminary glimpse of a few of the anticipated revisions:
What’s in a Name?
Trade Names: Probably the most significant departure from the current rule is a revised rule that would allow law firms to use trade names. Until now, law firms were restricted to using the names of lawyers at that firm to create the firm name, with or without a few additions like an entity designation, or words like ‘the’, ‘law’, ‘firm’ and ‘group’. So, Bob Smith and James Jones could call their firm Smith Jones, The Smith Jones Law Firm, PC, or Smith Jones Law Group, PLLC, for example. Under the new rules, a firm has the option to use a much wider variety of names, like The Dallas Employment Law Group, Litigation Central PC, or Jones Family Law Firm. The possibilities become almost endless with the trade name restriction lifted, and it will be interesting to see how both new and existing firms take advantage of this opportunity. No doubt we’ll see a range of things from clever and creative to cheesy. And bad puns – look for at least one enterprising appellate attorney to call his firm The Appealing Lawyer. One restriction that remains in place is the prohibition against names that are false or misleading, so you still can’t call your law firm Lawyers Who Can’t Lose or The U.S. Immigration Legal Center.
Specialization Gets Simplified
Board Certification language: Another simple but logical change is the revised approach to describing an attorney’s Board Certification. At the first instance of referencing this credential, it must be spelled out entirely, i.e., Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Specialization. But after that, an attorney can simply say ‘Board Certified’ without the full text. This makes for better copy that sounds less formal and redundant. On a related note, I still occasionally see “Not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization” posted on law firm websites in Texas. This was part of the original rules implemented in 1994 but was eliminated in the 2005 revisions. So, while it’s not a new change, it’s obviously still news to some. If your law firm website still has this disclaimer, feel free to remove it now!
Extra Time Heals All Wounds
Submission Timeframes: Under a proposed administrative change, if a lawyer is notified that a website or an advertisement is not compliant with the rules, he will have 15 days to ‘cure’ the violation, an increase over the 10 days previously provided. This is a great change because lawyers frequently receive the letter requesting the change just a few days before the 10-day period is up, causing unnecessary anxiety and stress. Extending the deadline by another 5 days takes some of the pressure off and lets us take a more considered approach to finding the right alternative to comply with the requirements.
Still Not Exactly Love Letters, But Better
Ad Review Committee Correspondence: Another pleasant change is the ‘softer’ tone of communications coming from the Ad Review Committee. The current notification letter about a violation of the rules is basically a draconian form letter that threatens the responsible attorney with dire consequences for their rule violation, starting with a report to the Grievance Committee. This language was included in almost every letter sent, regardless of the severity of the violation – we’ve seen lawyers receive this letter because they noted that they were selected by Super Lawyers but neglected to add ‘by Thomson Reuters’ to the copy. Not a substantive change, but a logical one that makes sense and helps reduce needless ‘ad review anxiety’.
USPS Loses Another Customer
Electronic Submission Filing: The Ad Review Committee has traditionally operated under the ‘technology is bad’ mindset, requiring all submissions be printed and mailed into the Austin office. Recently, they began allowing follow-up communications by email, but the majority of correspondence was conducted by snail mail. Under the proposed revisions, an online ‘portal’ will be created by an outside vendor that would allow firms to submit and pay for their Ad Review applications online, as well as track the status of the review process. This is a long overdue feature we’ve been requesting for several years, so I’m delighted about this process improvement.
What Do Lawyers Need to Do Right Now?
- For now, keep filing your ad submissions based on the current rules and processes. You can find all the instructions outlined here, with downloadable forms needed to submit applications.
- Get involved in the process by weighing in on the proposed changes. The CDRR is accepting comments on the proposed revisions until March 1, 2019. Read the recommendations of the State Bar Board of Directors in this PDF that includes a summary of the changes, a complete redlined copy of the current rules, as well as a clean copy.
- If you think you might want to change your firm name based on the new rules regarding trade names, do some research and be ready to act fast; maybe even purchase a domain name or two. You won’t want someone else to snag Let’s Sue the Bastard PC before you do.