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Madras High Court’s Stand Against Lawyer Advertisements

The Madras High Court has issued a landmark directive calling for the removal of online advertisements by lawyers. This move reaffirms the court’s stance that the legal profession should not be treated as a business driven by profit motives. The directive was issued in response to a plea seeking action against websites providing “online lawyer services,” which allegedly violate the Bar Council of India (BCI) Rules.

Legal Profession vs. Business Model

The court emphasized that legal services are fundamentally different from business services. Justice SM Subramaniam and Justice C Kumarappan highlighted that legal professionals serve society and maintain the integrity of the profession, which cannot be reduced to a commercial enterprise. The court stressed that while lawyers are paid for their services, it is a token of respect for their time and knowledge, not a transaction driven by profit.

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The Role of Rule 36 and IT Act

Rule 36 of the BCI Rules explicitly prohibits lawyers from advertising or soliciting work through any means, including online platforms. The court’s ruling extends this prohibition to websites and intermediaries that facilitate such advertisements. The court noted that these activities are not protected under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, which provides a safe harbor for intermediaries, as the Advocates Act and BCI Rules take precedence in regulating the legal profession.

The Branding and Rating Controversy

The court took a critical view of the “branding culture” among lawyers, where online platforms rank and rate legal professionals. The bench argued that this practice demeans the profession’s ethos and compromises professional dignity and integrity. By treating legal services as commodities, such platforms undermine the nobility of the profession and the constitutional principles that underpin the delivery of justice.

Impact on Online Legal Services

Websites like Quikr, Sulekha, and Justdial, which list lawyers and offer online legal services, were scrutinized for their role in commercializing the profession. The court directed the BCI to initiate disciplinary action against advocates who engage in such advertising and instructed online platforms to cease these practices immediately. This directive aims to preserve the traditional values of the legal profession while adapting to modern technological advancements without compromising ethical standards.

Legal Profession’s Ethical Standards

The Madras High Court reiterated that the legal profession’s ethical standards must not be compromised. Lawyers, as upholders of the law, should not engage in activities that prioritize profit over justice. The court pointed out that marketing legal services contradicts the profession’s fundamental principles and risks reducing the role of lawyers to mere service providers rather than guardians of justice‚Äč.

The Future of Legal Advertising in India

The court’s ruling sets a significant precedent for the future of legal advertising in India. By categorically rejecting the commercialization of legal services, the Madras High Court has reinforced the profession’s ethical boundaries. This decision serves as a reminder that while the legal profession can embrace technological advancements, it must do so without compromising its core values and the trust placed in it by society.

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