For a country that has made spectacular advances in
software development and the provision of world class services as
its global emblem, the restrictions on Indian law firms from having
fully fledged websites is a touch puzzling.
Accordingly, beyond using the internet to indicate their
addresses and for sending and receiving emails, Indian law firms
are simply not at liberty to showcase their history, transactional
record, qualifications of their lawyers or any of the common
hallmarks that have come to define law firm websites in many
notable jurisdictions. Technology has a way of dethroning settled
assumptions and this appears to have happened with the underlying
narrative against legal "advertising".
Historically, the legal profession in Britain was an elite
and upper middle class preserve and as gentlemen, the view was
taken that advertising stained the prestige of such a "noble
In the ensuing rules therefore made to regulate conduct,
advertising was prohibited and this has largely remained an article
of (professional) faith in virtually all the jurisdictions in which
English Common Law berthed.
The previous Rules of Professional Conduct in Nigeria contains
no less a prohibition against advertising. Yet it must be conceded
that there was not much of a debate in Nigeria when the development
of the internet presented the opportunity of Nigerian law firms
having a web presence. Everybody simply joined the train. Indeed,
it was only in 2007 that the new and extant rules of Professional
Conduct in Nigeria gave legitimacy to a controlled‟ form of
mirroring similar provisions in England. In India, a country with
whom Nigeria shares remarkable similarities, the combination of the
Advocates Act, 1961 and the Rules of the Bar Council of India
reproduces the historical prohibition on advertising. Quite
naturally, the Rules in India predate the internet and could not
have foreseen the changes it would unfurl.
So, is having a website advertising?
The answer is likely to be mixed and the issues it throws up are
no closer to being resolved by a plebiscite. Perhaps a suggestion
might be to invert the pyramid and concede to the impossibility of
indefinitely sealing the profession. The argument for maintaining
the traditional prohibition against legal advertising range from
preserving the dignity of the profession to not misleading,
deceiving and or confusing the public. These remain enduring and
legitimate concerns in all jurisdictions, no doubt; yet it is hard
to see how creatively firm regulations cannot address these. This
would seem to be the preferred route taken by the Law Society in
Such is the extent to which fundamental changes are being made
to the noble profession" that Slater & Gordon, an
Australian law firm, went public as a business in 2007. English
firms may soon be similarly opportune. In other respects, markets
changes, technology and client sophistication are, according to
Richard Susskind, leading to a "commoditization" of legal
services and a need for lawyers who will be adept in identifying
and mitigating legal risks. India law firms stand at the gateway of
a far too important segment of the global market and the rather
nuanced argument of whether owing a proper website offends the
Rules is unlikely to be able to sidestep what must surely be the
stream of an inevitable flood.
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