India has over 1.2 million practising lawyers, which easily renders it as one of the top contributors in the global legal industry. However, commercialization of legal professional has been discouraged by the legislature of our country.
The Bar Council of India has laid down strict standards and code of conduct with respect to the legal community. The legal profession is considered to be highly noble, a notion based on legal ethics which may seem outdated in other countries but form an integral part of being a lawyer in India.
Why are Lawyers or Law firms not allowed to advertise in India?
Rule 36 of the Bar Council of India Rules states that Indian Law firms and lawyers are not allowed to advertise their practice in the market, both offline or online. Rule 36 of Bar Council of India Rules states that an advocate in India cannot solicit work or advertise, either directly or indirectly by circulars, advertisements, personal communications or interviews, or by furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments or producing photographs to be published in connection with their cases.
The signboard or name-plate of a lawyer must be of a reasonable size and must not indicate that he is or has been President or Member of a Bar Council or of any Association or that he has been associated with any person or organisation or that he has been a Judge or an Advocate General.
However, the Bar Council of India (BCI) has not completely ignored the developments in the liberalized generation. The BCI recently decided to amend Rule 36 of the BCI Rules by adding a clause that allows advocates to maintain websites about themselves or their law firms to provide information about their business and help people to make more informed choices.
Any information other than the details approved by the Bar Council of India will be considered as a violation of Rule 36 and the advocate would be liable for misconduct under Section 35 of the Advocates Act, 1961.
Justice Krishna Iyer once noted that “law is not a trade, not briefs, not merchandise, and so the heaven of commercial competition should not vulgarize the legal profession”. However, over the years, courts have adopted the view that ‘legal services’ form a part of ‘services’ rendered to consumers. Lawyers are considered to be service providers who are accountable to their clients in the case of deficiency of services.
In 2008, the complete ban on advertising by lawyers was lifted and relaxed to a certain extent. The amendment allowed advocates to mention their names, telephone numbers, email IDs and professional and educational qualifications on the websites of their choice which listed legal service providers.
The emerging legal service sector is equally beneficial to all consumers of legal services, without discrimination. In the age of consumerism and competition law, consumers right to free and fair competition is paramount and cannot be denied by any other consideration. Trade in legal services focuses on benefits accruing to consumers from the legal service sector, particularly the quality of service available with respect to particular fields.
Advertising laws are completely different in other nations. The market for advertising by lawyers in the USA is well-developed, in which lawyers are free to advertise their speciality and cases dealt with them.
Presently, various legal-tech platforms are sprouting in the legal domain which allows advocates to list their qualification, expertise, experience etc., in order to provide a litigator with options to choose from. The legal profession has relied on word-of-mouth for years now. A time has come when Indian legal industry should embrace the change and indulge in the healthy marketing of their brand. Nonetheless, the Legislature needs to draft certain guidelines for advertising the legal practice to keep a check on malpractice.
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