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Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.4: Communication of Fields of Practice

[Disclaimer]

(a) Lawyers may hold themselves out publicly as specialists in particular services, fields, and areas of law if the holding out does not include a false or misleading communication. Such holding out includes (1) a statement that the lawyer concentrates in, specializes in, is certified in, has expertise in, or limits practice to a particular service, field, or area of law, (2) directory listings, including electronic, computer accessed or other similar types of directory listings, by particular service, field, or area of law, and (3) any other association of the lawyer's name with a particular service, field, or area of law.

(b) Lawyers who hold themselves out as "certified" in a particular service, field, or area of law must name the certifying organization and must state that the certifying organization is "a private organization, whose standards for certification are not regulated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," if that is the case, or, if the certifying organization is a governmental body, must name the governmental body.

(c) Except as provided in this paragraph, lawyers who associate their names with a particular service, field, or area of law imply an expertise and shall be held to the standard of performance of specialists in that particular service, field, or area. Lawyers may limit responsibility with respect to a particular service, field, or area of law to the standard of an ordinary lawyer by holding themselves out in a fashion that does not imply expertise, such as by advertising that they "handle" or "welcome" cases, "but are not specialists in" a specific service, field, or area of law.

Adopted June 9, 1997, effective January 1, 1998. Amended December 8, 1997, effective January 1, 1998; amended August 31, 1999, effective October 1, 1999.

Comment:

[1] This Rule is substantially similar to DR 2-105 which replaced a rule prohibiting lawyers, except for patent, trademark, and admiralty lawyers, from holding themselves out as recognized or certified specialists. The Rule removes prohibitions against holding oneself out as a specialist or expert in a particular field or area of law so long as such holding out does not include any false or misleading communication but provides a broad definition of what is included in the term "holding out." See also Comment 3A to Rule 7.2, discussing computer accessed or other similar types of newsgroups, bulletin boards, and chat groups. The phrase "false or misleading communication," defined in Rule 7.1, replaces the phrase "deceptive statement or claim" in DR 2-105 to conform to the terminology of Rules 7.1 and 7.3. The Rule merely expands to all claims of expertise the language of the former rule, which permitted nondeceptive statements about limiting practice to, or concentrating in, specified fields or areas of law. There is no longer any need to deal specifically with patent, trademark, or admiralty specialization. To the extent that such practices have fallen within federal jurisdiction, they will continue to do so.

[2] The Rule deals with the problem that the public might perceive that the Commonwealth is involved in certification of lawyers as specialists. It therefore requires lawyers holding themselves out as certified to identify the certifying organization with specifically prescribed language when it is a private organization and to name the certifying governmental organization when that is the case. Nothing in the Rule prevents lawyers from adding truthful language to the prescribed language.

[3] The Rule also specifies that lawyers who imply expertise in a particular field or area of law should be held to the standard of practice of a recognized expert in the field or area. It gives specific examples of commonly used forms of advertising that fall within that description. The Rule also recognizes that there may be good reasons for lawyers to wish to associate their names with a particular field or area of law without wishing to imply expertise or to accept the responsibility of a higher standard of conduct. Such a situation might describe, for example, a lawyer who wishes to develop expertise in a particular or field area without yet having it. The Rule identifies specific language that might be used to avoid any implication of expertise that would trigger the imposition of a higher standard of conduct.

Corresponding ABA Model Rule. Different from Model Rule 7.4.

Corresponding Former Massachusetts Rule. DR 2-105.