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A law against lawyers

  • Published at 11:35 am November 27th, 2018
A self-defeating law BIGSTOCK

Law firms deserve the right to advertise their services just like any other firms

Nowadays, Facebook, Instagram, and many others social networks are frequently used for the purpose of advertisement, in order to reach of people all over the world easily, given that the internet is a fast medium of communication. 

Law firms in Bangladesh, on the other hand, are not frequently seen advertising their service-oriented businesses on any media, online, or otherwise. 

The reason might be that there exists an apparent ban on licensed lawyers in the country to self-advertise for the purpose of getting legal work. However, given that the law was enacted as early as 1972, it’s important to ask whether legal firms fall within the purview of such law.

Banning advertisement of legal professionals

When the president’s order 46 was signed in order to constitute the Bangladesh Bar Council Rules and Orders 1972, the concept of law firms in Bangladesh was perhaps relatively unheard of. The practice of law has historically been perceived as an independent profession in the South Asian sub-continent. 

Meaning an “advocate” (a term used to refer to licensed lawyers in Bangladesh) was expected to operate his service-oriented business on his own, as a sole proprietor.

The aforementioned order of 1972 says: “An advocate shall not solicit professional employment by advertisement or by any other means. This clause shall not be constructed as prohibiting the publication or use of ordinary professional cards, nameplates, or conventional listings in directories, so long as the information contained therein is limited to professional and academic qualifications and public offices currently held, and does not contain any matter which savors of personal advertisement.”

Law firms tend to make their ways around the rule to advertise in unconventional ways. For instance, events such as law career fairs, seminars, and workshops, mostly organized by law schools or renowned organizations, usually attract not only potential clients and recruits, but also a good number of print and electronic media.

There, they go on event banners and everywhere else possible as sponsors of the event.

Considering the fact that law firms (most commonly based on partnership agreements) as separate legal entities have, in recent years, emerged throughout Bangladesh, it is imperative that the rules regulating lawyers be amended at once. 

Loophole for law firms

Now, reading the above law, can it not be argued that law firms are likely to be absolutely safe, if they advertise them on social media, for example, considering the fact that the Bar Council Order only bans individual advocates? To what extent would one argue the rules cover law firms as well, alongside independent advocates?

Hence, technically, there is actually no ban on the advertisement of firms.

So if the question arises as to why a law firm would not be held liable, given that a number of lawyers (who would otherwise be individually liable) who work in the firm, it can always be counter-argued that a firm has a separate legal entity and nothing as such is mentioned in the rules that bar a firm soliciting work through advertisement.

Merits of advertisement

In the EU, the US, and even India, online advertisements of the legal profession are permissible. Of all the advantages, the information derived from advertisements might help potential clients to choose the right kind of law firm, likely to entertain his request to represent him during litigation, settlements or elsewhere.

It would be expected that the firm in its advertisement would make clear the branch of law of its expertise -- criminal, commercial, property, torts, or others.

Moreover, the kind of advertisement might actually portray the type of clients the firm aims on targeting -- a middle-income holder is less likely to be embarrassed, appearing at a fancy law firm which he would not be able to afford. Hence, he would know the right firm for him. 

Give the growing popularity of law firms in Bangladesh, it is an immense need that the Bangladesh Bar Council Rules and Orders 1972 be amended, not only for the removal of the aforementioned clause that bars advertisements by individual lawyers, but also to incorporate the concept of law firms.

Since, otherwise, law firms will fall well outside the scope of the rules regulating advocates in the country, which might create bigger problems in the near future. 

Shahriar Bin Wares is a student of law.

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