Soliciting And Advertising By Lawyers

Ashish Kumar & Urja Joshi

19 Jun 2023 8:44 AM GMT

  • Soliciting And Advertising By Lawyers

    In January 2023, the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record of India (SCAORA) took notice of an issue involving Forbes India Magazine's publication of a "Legal Powerlist" featuring the top 25 Advocates on Record in India. Following a complaint, the SCAORA unanimously passed a resolution condemning the list and calling for its removal, as lawyers are prohibited from soliciting or advertising...

    In January 2023, the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record of India (SCAORA) took notice of an issue involving Forbes India Magazine's publication of a "Legal Powerlist" featuring the top 25 Advocates on Record in India. Following a complaint, the SCAORA unanimously passed a resolution condemning the list and calling for its removal, as lawyers are prohibited from soliciting or advertising their work. Presently, Indian legislation prohibits lawyers from engaging in any form of advertising. However, the lack of a clear and precise definition of advertising has resulted in inconsistent judicial decisions regarding the promotion of legal services, showcasing divergent perspectives. The issue of lawyer advertising in India remains complex and contentious, with legal professionals and authorities struggling to find the right balance between professional ethics, the necessity for client outreach, and the ever-changing landscape of communication and technology. It is evident that resolving the matter of lawyer advertising requires careful consideration and a comprehensive approach that aligns with the core values and integrity of the legal profession. Justice Krishna Iyer's in Bar Council of Maharashtra v. M. V. Dabholkar[1], while dealing with issue of advertisement for lawyers in India almost 30 years ago which still hold relevance today, as he emphasized that ethical and propriety standards in the legal profession strictly forbid solicitation, advertising, or any distasteful practices aimed at benefiting one's legal business[2].

    Current Status Quo Of The Infamous ‘Rule 36’

    The Bar Council of India (BCI) holds the authority to establish rules for the Advocates Act of 1961, which regulates the conduct, ethics, and practices of lawyers in India. The legislation was enacted to ensure that the legal profession remains noble and free from greed and deception. Under the Act and existing jurisprudence, advertising is explicitly prohibited by the rules of professional conduct for lawyers. This prohibition is believed to safeguard the interests of the country's less educated population and prevent professional envy. Rule 36[3] imposes three primary restrictions on lawyers. Firstly, lawyers are not allowed to promote themselves directly or indirectly. Secondly, if a lawyer is involved in a case, they cannot advertise themselves in newspapers, display their photographs, or make inspirational comments. Thirdly, they are prohibited from publicly announcing their affiliation with the bar council through signboards or nameplates. Indian courts strongly condemn solicitation by lawyers. This stringent rule has its roots in English law[4] as well. The Madras High Court in C.D. Sekkizhar v. Secretary, Bar Council of Madras [5]recognized the need to prohibit advertising by attorneys in order to discourage envy and preserve the integrity of the noble legal profession. In Dharam Vir v. Vinod Mahajan & Ors[6], it was argued that providing legal services could become a viable business opportunity and fall within the scope of "commercial activity" as defined in the Bangalore water supply case[7]. Additionally, such activities would be protected by Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. In the case of Srimathi v. Union of India[8], the question arose as to whether lawyers would be subject to the Consumer Protection Act and liable for claims under the act. It was emphasized that lawyers are explicitly governed by the Advocates Act and would not be held liable except in cases of perjury or gross negligence.

    Surrogate Marketing vis a vis 2008 Amendment of Rule 36

    The 2008 Amendment Act brought about a significant shift in the landscape surrounding Rule 36, which had previously caused uncertainty. Following the amendment, lawyers were allowed to include their details on professional networking platforms like LinkedIn and various legal directories. Since the amendment, there has been a paradigm shift in society's attitude towards advertising and marketing, driven by advancements in law and technology. Platforms like LinkedIn offer a vast network that assists lawyers in attracting clients, within the boundaries permitted by the exception to Rule 36. Advocates and Senior Advocates often publish columns praising their performance and expertise. With the increasing use of data, these platforms have evolved into alternative and surrogate advertising channels. Indian lawyers have adopted various methods to promote themselves, some of which are discussed below:

    • Misleading Claims: Some lawyers in India falsely portray themselves as experts in all areas of law, even without any specialization or experience in specific subjects. They utilize social media platforms to promote themselves as authorities in areas they lack expertise in, such as Mercantile Law.
    • International Marketing: Lawyers engage in marketing on international platforms by attending conferences, such as IPR Conferences in the UK or the US. These events provide opportunities for interaction with judges, top lawyers, and partners from prestigious law firms, leading to exposure in the international market.
    • Tracking summons and court notices: some Law firms closely monitor Supreme Court notices issued to multinational companies. They approach these companies, offering their services in response to the notices, thereby leveraging the potential business opportunity without any moral principles.
    • Showcasing Successes: Lawyers often post on social media about their successful representation of clients, sharing copies of court orders or judgments as proof. Some lawyers go to the extent of posting orders on social media they obtained for a client .
    • Paid Recognition: In recent times, lawyers and law firms have resorted to paying for awards or recognition, positioning themselves as tier 1, 2, or 3 law firms or subject area experts. This practice aims to enhance their reputation and attract potential clients.
    • Relationship Building: Lawyers sometimes post pictures with judges to create an impression of a close relationship, even if the judge is not personally acquainted with them. This strategy is employed to enhance their credibility and standing within the legal community.

    The evolving landscape of legal marketing in India presents new challenges and opportunities for lawyers to navigate within the confines of the existing regulatory framework. It is essential to strike a balance between leveraging modern platforms and adhering to the ethical standards expected of legal professionals.

    Rise in Social Media Usage

    “Social media tells judges which case will come up before them even before they look at the file[9]

    Justice DY Chandrachud of the Supreme Court recently commented that the influence of social media has been felt even in the courts and the judicial system. He emphasized the fact that judges know what they're up against even before they look at a case because of social media.

    Technology is an ever-present force that continues to evolve rapidly, bringing both excitement and trepidation to lawyers. It is inevitable for lawyers to be impacted by technology, especially in the realm of communication and marketing, to expand their client base. Each lawyer bears an individual and non-delegable responsibility to stay informed about the potential benefits and drawbacks of technological advancements. They must take necessary precautions to safeguard themselves and their clients from any potential risks.

    A Supreme Court bench headed by then Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, issued a notice to the Bar Council of India on 14th July 2020, urging to lift ban on advertising [10]. The objective was to ensure that advocates did not suffer a loss of clientele due to constraints imposed. Many modern-day lawyers engage in indirect marketing through various channels. This includes positive ways such as answering legal questions in digests, newspapers, or websites, social media posts (especially on platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn) providing guidance on what to do and what not to do, highlighting excerpts from speeches, creating videos or video logs on various legal incidents, and sharing insights from different aspects of the legal field. However, the repetitive nature of such content can sometimes elicit a negative response from the audience. While social media has given rise to legal influencers, their activities often disguise indirect self-promotion. It is well-known that law firms with greater financial resources engage in indirect marketing through conferences, ratings and rankings, sponsorships, social media activities, workshops, and seminars. Many accolades in different categories are often dominated by large legal businesses. The receipt of such honors is flaunted as an achievement across various platforms. When viewed from an ethical standpoint, such practices can tarnish the profession's image. Moreover, they tend to push smaller organizations and financially disadvantaged attorneys further away from the public eye. This raises questions about the role of competition in the legal field, particularly in the absence of effective regulations to level the playing field.

    Lawyers are in the profession of providing assistance to their clients. The legal services industry has experienced significant growth in recent decades, reaching new heights in transactional disputes. There is currently a strong interest in alternative forms of dispute resolution, and fields such as aviation, maritime, sports, and technology law are witnessing unprecedented innovations. In light of these developments, it is crucial for lawyers to maintain professional ethics and standards while adapting to changing circumstances. The legal profession is continuously evolving, and lawyers must be allowed to navigate through the intersection of technology, marketing, and ethics to ensure they serve their clients effectively and uphold the nobility and integrity of the profession.

    Views are personal.

    [1] 1976 AIR 242

    [2] Awstika Das, SCAORA Condemns Forbes India ‘Top 25 Advocates-on Record’ Lists As ‘Misleading’ & ‘Unauthorised’, Livelaw (Jan. 23, 2023), available at:

    [3] Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette to be Observed by Advocates. Bar Council of India

    [4] The Solicitors Act of 1933 (United Kingdom).

    [5] AIR 1967 Mad 35

    [6] Dharam Vir v. Vinod Mahajan & Ors., AIR 1985 P&H 169

    [7] Bangalore Water Supply v. A Rajappa, 1978 AIR 548.

    [8] AIR 1996 Mad 427.

    [9] Sohini Chowdhury, Social Media Thinks That Every Remark Of A Judge Is Judgment: Justice DY Chandrachud, Livelaw (Sept. 13, 2022), available at:

    [10] jha S, “Plea before Supreme Court Seeks Urgent Directions to Bar Councils to Permit Advocates to Advertise for Limited Purposes” (Live Law May 24, 2021) <> accessed February 6, 2023

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