Ethics Corner Article

New Hampshire Bar News – June 21, 2013

Dear Ethics Committee: I understand that LinkedIn is the leading social networking website for professionals. When I created my profile, and when I updated it, I had the option of identifying “Skills and Expertise” (up to 50 skill areas, using my own words). My law practice is limited to banking and insurance issues. Am I allowed to list “banking law” and “insurance law” under Skills and Expertise?

Yes, you may list your areas of practice under Skills and Expertise, so long as you are careful not to identify yourself as a specialist. Also, be mindful that LinkedIn sometimes changes its headings. The profile section now identified as “Skills and Expertise” used to be “Specialties,” and listing your areas of practice as “Specialties” could be problematic.

Two of the New Hampshire Rules of Professional Conduct apply to this situation: Rule 7.1, Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services, and Rule 7.4, Communications of Fields of Practice. Rule 7.1 prohibits a lawyer from making “a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.” By way of explanation, and without limiting the generality of the prohibition, Rule 7.1 states that “a communication is false or misleading if it:

  1. contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement, considered in light of all of the circumstances, not materially misleading;
  2. is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the rules of professional conduct or other law; or
  3. compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.”

Rule 7.4 allows a lawyer to “communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law.” However, this rule prohibits a lawyer from stating or implying that the lawyer is a specialist, with three exceptions:

  1. A lawyer admitted to engage in patent practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office may use the designation “patent attorney” or a substantially similar designation;
  2. A lawyer engaged in admiralty practice may use the designation “admiralty,” “proctor in admiralty” or a substantially similar designation; and
  3. A lawyer who is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law by an organization that has been accredited by the American Bar Association may hold himself or herself out as a specialist certified by such organization.

In the context of LinkedIn, listing “banking law” and “insurance law” under Skills and Expertise – or better yet, including a statement in your summary description that you practice banking and insurance law – would fall within the communications allowed by Rules 7.1 and 7.4. You must be careful not to make a statement that creates unjustified expectations, and you must not state or imply that you are a specialist in either field unless you meet the criterion stated in Rule 7.4(c). Finally, you should review your profile periodically, whether on LinkedIn or other sites, to ensure that a change to the website has not caused an innocuous statement to become misleading.

The Ethics Committee provides general guidance on the NH Rules of Professional Conduct with regard to a lawyer’s own prospective conduct. New Hampshire lawyers may contact the Ethics Committee for confidential and informal guidance by emailing the Ethics Committee Staff Liaison. Brief ethics commentaries based upon member inquiries and suggestions will be published monthly in the NH Bar News.