“Legal Service Is Not Business”: Madras HC Asks State Bar Councils To Take Action Against Lawyers Soliciting Work Through Online Service Providers

Upasana Sajeev

3 July 2024 12:29 PM GMT

  • “Legal Service Is Not Business”: Madras HC Asks State Bar Councils To Take Action Against Lawyers Soliciting Work Through Online Service Providers

    The Madras High Court has come down heavily on lawyers soliciting work through online websites in violation of Bar Council of India Rules. The court has asked the Bar Council of India to issue circulars/instructions/guidelines to State Bar Councils to initiate disciplinary proceedings against lawyers for advertising or soliciting their services directly or indirectly. The court added...

    The Madras High Court has come down heavily on lawyers soliciting work through online websites in violation of Bar Council of India Rules. The court has asked the Bar Council of India to issue circulars/instructions/guidelines to State Bar Councils to initiate disciplinary proceedings against lawyers for advertising or soliciting their services directly or indirectly.

    The court added that action should be taken against any form of advertising including furnishing newspaper comments, or producing photographs to be published in connection with cases, etc.

    The bench of Justice SM Subramaniam and Justice C Kumarappan noted that the legal profession, unlike others, was not a job or a business and the intention was to provide welfare to the society. The court added that though a fee was paid to the lawyers, it was paid out of respect for their time and knowledge. The court added that providing ranking or customer ratings to lawyers demeaned the profession and was against dignity and integrity.

    It is agonising that some of the legal professionals today are trying to adopt a business model. Legal service is neither a job nor a business. A business is driven purely by profit motive. But in law, larger part is a service to the society. Though a service fee is paid to a lawyer, it is paid out of respect for their time and knowledge,” the court said.

    The court thus directed the Bar Council of India to register complaints before competent authorities against online service providers/intermediaries conspiring or aiding the commission of unlawful acts of publication of advertisements by lawyers. The court also asked the Bar Council to remove the advertisements published by lawyers through online service providers and to issue advice to the intermediaries to not publish such advertisements in the future.

    The court was hearing a plea against websites like quikr.in, sulekha.com and justdial.com providing online lawyer services on their websites. The petitioner pointed out that online lawyer services were prohibited under the Bar Council of India Rules and amounted to misconduct under Section 35 of the Advocates Act. He also called the Bar Council of India and the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to take strict action to curb such online soliciting.

    The websites, however, submitted that they were only providing online directory services and not soliciting work for lawyers. It was submitted that directory services were not prohibited under the Act.

    The court, however, noted that these websites were selling legal services of lawyers for a fixed price which was against the Bar Council of India rules. The court noted that the website also independently provided rating services of lawyers without any basis or authority. The court added that the lawyers, who were enlisting themselves in these websites were bringing down the nobility of the profession.

    The court noted that the rationale behind the non-advertising policy for lawyers was that firstly, marketing of lawyers brought down the nobility and integrity of the profession. The court observed that the process of justice delivery was based on the Constitution and the lawyers, being upholders of law could not treat the profession as a business.

    Secondly, the court pointed out that such advertisements of lawyers without any regulation could spread misinformation among the public. The court noted that by providing such advertisements, the websites end up publishing false and unverified information on their website. The court added that the public was prone to be misguided and without any authority to cross-check such online information, the public ended up losing faith in the judicial process.

    Thirdly, the court pointed out that the intention was to narrow down the chasm of inequality. The court added that the attempt was to establish a level playing field due to the economic factors and the attempt was to make sure that all are equal before the law. The court emphasized that the legal profession was not a race to the top but about service to the downtrodden. it observed that advertisements of lawyers on websites covertly and overtly stood against the elements of fairness and Justice.

    In the present case, the court noted that the advocates were registering their names by paying charges with the online website companies. The court noted that the companies were aiding and inducing to solicit works from litigants which was an action of “tout” as mentioned under Rule 36. The court thus directed the websites to remove all contents that violated the BCI Rules within 4 weeks.

    Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr.Mohammed Fayaz Ali

    Counsel for the Respondent: Mr.S.R.Raghunathan, Mr.E.K.Kumaresan, Mr.Srinath Sridevan Senior Counsel, For Mr.Bharadwaja Ramasubramaniam

    Citation: 2024 LiveLaw (Mad) 268

    Case Title: Mr.P.N.Vignesh v The Chairman and Members of the Bar Council, BCI

    Case No: W.P.No.31281 of 2019

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