ABA Journal


Legal Ethics

Law firms can’t describe ‘specialties’ on LinkedIn, New York ethics opinion says

Aug 16, 2013, 04:25 pm CDT


This article begs the question. If all of the attorneys in the law firm are certified in a specialty, in accordance with all ABA specialization requirements, can the law firm say they say the law firm specializes?

By Michael A Kirtland on 2013 08 17, 7:37 pm CDT

Ethics for lawyers are outdated and need to change when it comes to marketing, advertising, etc.

By tim17 on 2013 08 19, 6:30 pm CDT

I practice as "counsel to the legal profession, CONCENTRATING on locating missing heirs, witnesses, defendants almost exclusively for other attorneys.
Several years ago, I was warned by the Grievance Committee for Nassau and Suffolk Counties (NY) that an ad that I ran in the New York Law Journal, in the "Services for Lawyers" section, targeting attorneys exclusively, violated the Judiciary Law and/or other regulations because among my services to the Bar, I dared to state that I ..."specialized in difficult and unusual cases". This was aimed only at fellow attorneys, mind you, not at the general public. You can bet that I have never used the word "specialized" again and restrict my descriptions of my practice to "emphasis on" or "concentrating in" or the like.

By Charles-Eric Gordon on 2013 08 21, 6:45 pm CDT

The Specialties Section no longer exists. Anyone who formerly listed specialties under this section when it existed, then found those rolled under the Summary section of the Profile. These should be edited out because of the restrictions on the word "specialize."

Governing bodies need to deal with the sections that now exist, which are the short-form "Skills & Expertise Endorsements" and the longer-form "Recommendations" sections, and they need to use terms and wording with the terms and words that are currently on LinkedIn if they want to help attorneys figure out what is allowable, and what is not.

By Nancy Myrland on 2013 08 22, 5:03 pm CDT

Good to know that the NYSB stepped up and tackled this decision. What about "endorsements", however, concerning RPC 7.1 [3]?

By Greg Sutphin on 2013 08 27, 1:06 am CDT

Presumably, however, it is just fine to say that "I practice in the specialty of X, and do a great job for my clients on the cases I accept."

By Craig J. Bolton on 2013 08 28, 12:13 pm CDT

As always, ancient ethics get in the way of business. And guess what? All these ethics committees are funded by the membership fees. So, if they intervene with our business, we can't pay the fees - and then they are gone, too. Speaking of people who cut the very branch they sit on...
And I have to ask what to do about endorsements, too.

By Anna Gray on 2013 08 28, 1:41 pm CDT

After having litigated hundreds of intellectual property cases over the past 40+ years -- and in virtually every major jurisdiction in the United States, and most of the minor ones -- I think I know just a bit more about "specialization" than some committee of nubies who have spent their time hanging around bar associations.

By bmwlaw on 2013 08 28, 3:26 pm CDT


I have practiced criminal law for 28 years. I spent 18 years as an ADA in NY State and 5 years as an AUSA. For the last 5 years I have practiced criminal defense. I have tried dozens of felony jury trials, and done over 100 criminal appeals. I wrote a provision that had numerous articles published on criminal law issues. And the Bar Association says I can't advise prospective clients that I specialize in criminal law.

Exactly who is being protected by that rule?

By CrimLawyer on 2013 08 28, 3:33 pm CDT

What is the legal authority of the NYS Bar Association's opinions? This is not the licensing authority for lawyers in NY, is it? Are its opinions enforced by the licensing authority?

If it is just a membership organization, perhaps firms want to be a member of this ancient and irrelev . . . . er, honorable organization, perhaps not.

By Oort Cloud on 2013 08 28, 6:31 pm CDT

CrimLawyer and bmwlaw et al.,

The problem isn't people like you. The problem is that the term "specialize" implies, at least to most of the public, that a person who specializes in an area of law has expertise in it -- yet if there weren't the rule, attorneys with no experience at all could claim that they "specialize" in several areas when all they mean is that they want to practice in those areas.

That stated, I do think the actual rules regarding certification as a "specialist" are absurd, and definitely the product of people who have never practiced law for a living. Also, why on earth are only a few fields of practice designated as being worthy of having "specialists"? Why not any field? If a lawyer wants permission to be designated as a specialist in a particular area, she should be able to submit letters from four or five colleagues certifying that she has the requisite knowledge to be so designated.

By Critical Rationalist on 2013 08 29, 1:12 pm CDT

Yet another example of how the legal profession is out of touch with reality. Its just silly to pretend that a lawyer advising the public of the area of law in which they have concentrated their efforts, time, and gained expertise cannot be described as "specializing." As the criminal law attorney above noted, who is being protected here? Per current advertising rules, both a fresh law school graduate and a two-decade-plus experienced attorney must describe themselves in the same terms. How is a member of the public to find a good lawyer when we cannot use plain English to describe what we do and do well?

By Melody A. Kramer on 2013 08 30, 2:25 pm CDT

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