-4

Fairly often, lawyers (or people claiming to be lawyers) post advertisements as answers on Law Stack Exchange questions. Sometimes they include an actual answer to the question (usually written by ChatGPT, apparently), but sometimes it's just spam. The spam usually looks something like this:

John Doe is the best criminal defense attorney in Anytown, USA. Criminal defense attorney in Anytown

If the spammers are, in fact, lawyers, are they violating any ethics rules by posting these (non-)answers? Is the fact that they are violating SE's terms and conditions (and thus breaching a contract) relevant?

5
  • It depends on what the posts actually say. A link to an example would help.
    – bdb484
    Jan 4 at 15:42
  • @bdb484 I can't think of any, and they're usually deleted quickly. I have enough rep to still see them, but I don't know of any way to find them. Should I close this as "needs details or clarity," then edit and reopen once I see an example?
    – Someone
    Jan 4 at 15:50
  • If you'd like. You could also just paraphrase a representative example from memory.
    – bdb484
    Jan 4 at 15:59
  • @bdb484 I added an example.
    – Someone
    Jan 4 at 16:03
  • 1
    This is a point upon which U.S. ethics rules vary quite a bit. Historically, regulation of lawyer advertising was more strict, but many U.S. states have relaxed their rules in different ways. Of course, any illegal conduct (e.g. violations of the CAN SPAM Act) would be illegal for lawyers as well. The status of breaching a TOS might vary as well.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 4 at 18:04

2 Answers 2

2

It would almost certainly be illegal in Germany. Not because it is spam, but because of the content, i.e., general prohibitions on advertising for lawyers.

Until 1987, advertising was generally prohibited for lawyers, period.

Even after 1987, advertising was severely restricted and there was a lot of uncertainty because of the general "professionalism clause" (the term is my invention) §43 (2) Bundesrechtsanwaltsordnung (BRAO) (federal directive concerning lawyers, the federal law governing lawyers):

Er hat sich innerhalb und außerhalb des Berufes der Achtung und des Vertrauens, welche die Stellung des Rechtsanwalts erfordert, würdig zu erweisen.

He must behave, inside and outside of the profession, in a manner that is worthy of the esteem and trust required by the status of a lawyer.

It was widely felt that even with the explicit prohibition gone, this general clause still prohibits or at least greatly limits advertisements, since advertising is deemed "unworthy" of the gravity of the legal profession.

This was clarified by inserting §43b BRAO:

Werbung ist dem Rechtsanwalt nur erlaubt, soweit sie über die berufliche Tätigkeit in Form und Inhalt sachlich unterrichtet und nicht auf die Erteilung eines Auftrags im Einzelfall gerichtet ist.

Advertising is only allowed for a lawyer, as long as it informs factually in form and content about the professional activity and is not targeted at soliciting an individual contract.

This meshes with §6,I Berufsordnung für Rechtsanwälte (BORA) (professional regulations for lawyers, the professional conduct rules by the bar association, i.e., the rules lawyers give themselves):

Rechtsanwältinnen und Rechtsanwälte dürfen über ihre Dienstleistung und ihre Person informieren, soweit die Angaben sachlich unterrichten und berufsbezogen sind.

Lawyers are permitted to inform about their service and person, as far as the information is informing factually and is related to the profession.

Today, advertising is allowed, provided that it is:

  • factual,
  • related to the profession, and
  • not targeted at individual clients.

The example in the question is almost certainly not factual. Even if John Doe truly is "the best" according to some metric, there is almost certainly a different, equally valid metric for "best" where another lawyer ranks higher.

Also, if the post specifically targets the asker, that would be illegal as well. And it could be argued that any answer on Stack Exchange at least partially targets the specific question and thus the asker.

Lastly, spamming online platforms almost certainly is "conduct unbecoming" a lawyer and thus violates the professionalism clause.

1

In the US, it is not illegal for lawyers to advertise and it is not a violation of professional ethics to advertise. The ABA rule is here. It would be a violation to falsely claim to be a certified specialist in an area of law, otherwise there are no content limits and no prohibition against puffery. There may be local prohibitions (e.g. California) against misleading claims, which would likely encompass a (subjective) assertion that there was some ranking standard applied to the attorney. You example, which is pretty bare, does not cross the line between advertising and solicitation, which could be the case with the added verbiage "I can solve your problem...". Here is an Americentric article on lawyer advertising.

3
  • Is the fact that the advertisements are posted as spam on a site that does not allow them relevant?
    – Someone
    Jan 4 at 21:22
  • It's not clear. Legal sanctions against a person's livelihood are held to a higher standard than a subjective moderator belief that a community behavioral standard has been violated, since you can be banned at SE's sole discretion. Can you point me to any TOS wording that you think would be relevant to a breech of contract claim?
    – user6726
    Jan 4 at 22:12
  • From the Acceptable Use Policy: "Spam. Users that do not publish meaningful content, use deceptive means to generate revenue or traffic, or whose primary purpose is affiliate marketing, will be suspended." From the TOS: "By accessing or using the Services or the public Network in any manner..., you affirm that you have read, understand, and agree to be bound by these Public Network Terms, as well as the Acceptable Use Policy and Privacy Policy."
    – Someone
    Jan 4 at 22:52

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .