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Unsolicited publicity – SRA guidance

Some practitioners were somewhat aghast to read para 8.9 in the new Code of Conduct for solicitors as follows:

‘You do not make unsolicited approaches to members of the public, with the exception of current or former clients, in order to advertise legal services provided by you, or your business or employer.’

An equivalent provision is in the Code of Conduct for firms (para 7.1(c)). A strict interpretation would seem to suggest that firms cannot send any advertising fliers or otherwise to prospective clients. The SRA has issued some guidance on this provision (‘Unsolicited approaches (advertising) to members of the public’ dated 16/12/19).

The SRA states that the provision is not intended to impose a blanket ban on all advertising by solicitors (but when doing so, firms must keep GDPR and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations in mind). The provision is to prohibit unsolicited approaches to the public which, even if permitted by law might feel unwelcome or intrusive.

Firms cannot make direct or specifically targeted approaches to members of the public in person, by phone or via other means which target them individually. The SRA’s guidance is not very specific in that it says that firms can advertise their services to the public in a non-targeted and non-intrusive way. Firms can place an advert:

  • on the radio or TV;
  • on billboards;
  • in a local newspaper;
  • online or on a social media platform.

None of these would be considered to be intrusive as they do not constitute approaching members of the public on a targeted or individual basis. Sending leaflets to people’s homes is allowed, but only under specific circumstances whereby the distribution could not be considered to be targeted – eg firms may send leaflets to all homes within a large geographic area, but may not selectively distribute leaflets to only specific homes or individuals based on wider information known about them.

Unsurprisingly, the provisions prohibit activity such as writing to someone who the firm is aware has been involved in a road traffic accident advertising litigation services. This would be a targeted approach to a specific member of the public which would probably feel intrusive to the recipient.

As ever, the SRA largely leaves it up to firms to make their own decisions. Firms are well advised to keep a record of such decisions to enable them to justify their thinking if an advertising campaign is subsequently challenged. See www.sra.org.uk.

 

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