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C. Unauthorized Practice of Law



Most current advertising mediums such as newspaper, radio and television have a limited jurisdiction or limited receiving audience of the advertisement. In comparison, the Internet has no such jurisdictional boundaries. Once a lawyer or law firm posts an advertisement on the Internet in the form of a web site, home page or discussion contribution, the netvertisement is there to solicit clients from all over the world. The Internet has no station range or circulation limitation and this possess one of the biggest ethical problems with advertising on the Internet. For example, a Georgia lawyer might place an advertisement on a local television station where the broadcast range of that advertisement will not go outside of Georgia and thus not outside the area in which the lawyer is licensed to practice law. However, a Georgia lawyer placing a netvertisement on the Internet will have an advertisement that may be read around the world or at the very least, outside the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is licensed to practice law. Not only is this misleading, but it is also potentially the unauthorized practice of law. This unethical practice of law issue does arise in the context of traditional advertising, but its effects on netvertising are significantly more prevalent.

Practicing law without a license is clearly unethical. Already in place for the existing mediums of advertisement, there exist ethical restrictions on legal advertising out of the geographic area in which a lawyer or law firm is licensed to practice law.[36] There is also relevant case law on the issue. For example, in the case of Re Schwartz, a lawyer who was sending cards and letterhead that implied that he was authorized to practice law in states where he was not, was disciplined for making intentional misrepresentations about where he could practice law.[37] Similarly, in the case of The Florida Bar v. Kaiser, a lawyer was convicted of practicing law without a license when his interstate law firm made advertisements that he was able to practice law in Florida when in fact he was not.[38] "Unfortunately, given the global nature of the Web, it is not inconceivable that an attorney advertising via a Web page could find his/her self charged with practicing law without a license, or with misleading advertising, for a Web advertisement that may comply with one state's advertising rules yet violate another".[39] For example, in Georgia and according to Georgia Bar Standard 6(b) and (c), a written communication to a prospective client must be marked "advertisement" on the envelope of the advertisement and on each and every page. Also, a copy of any written communication must be kept for four years. However Georgia's ethical rules may not be the same nor comparable to Florida and South Carolina's ethical rules. As a result, lawyers run the risk of violating other state ethical codes when they netvertise on the Internet. So, as the debate unfolds, the issue is whether these strict restrictions or requirements placed on the traditional legal advertising mediums should be applied to advertising on the Internet? And if so how?

Many lawyers on the Internet state that they practice federal law, therefore, they are immune from such state law concerns. Is such a belief truly valid? Because one's practice focuses on civil rights and constitutional issues, the attorney must still be licensed to practice in their state. Simply because the information is provided over the Internet would not seem to convert their state license into a country-wide license. Some guidance from the courts would be helpful.




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