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Madras High Court Orders BCI to Act Against Advertising and Solicitation by Lawyers

The Madras High Court on Wednesday instructed the Bar Council of India (BCI) to issue guidelines to state bar councils to take disciplinary action against advocates who advertise or solicit work through ads, messages, touts, and other means

A Bench comprising Justices SM Subramaniam and C Kumarappan also directed the BCI to file complaints against online service “providers/intermediaries” that violate Rule 36 of the Bar Council of India Rules.

Legal Profession Should Not Adopt Business Models

“It is distressing that some legal professionals today are attempting to adopt a business model. Legal service is neither a job nor a business. Business is driven purely by profit motive, but in law, a larger part is service to society. Though a service fee is paid to a lawyer, it is out of respect for their time and knowledge,” the Court observed.

Removal of Existing Advertisements Ordered

The Court further ordered the Bar Council to remove advertisements already published by lawyers through online service providers and advised these intermediaries not to publish such advertisements in the future.

Court Criticizes “Branding Culture” Among Lawyers

The Bench criticized the emerging “branding culture” among lawyers, stating, “Branding culture in the legal profession is detrimental to society. Ranking or providing customer ratings to lawyers is unheard of and demeans the ethos of the profession. Professional dignity and integrity must never be compromised, especially in the legal profession.”

Petitioner Seeks Action Against Websites Offering Lawyer Services

The Court was addressing a petition filed by PN Vignesh, seeking action against websites like Quikr, Sulekha, and Justdial that offer “online lawyer services.”

Websites’ Defense Rejected by Court

The petitioner argued that these websites not only list lawyers’ names and contact information but also connect users with lawyers through a PIN system and grade the lawyers under categories like “Platinum,” “Premium,” and “Top Service Provider.” Counsel for the websites contended that their clients were only providing directory services and were not soliciting work for lawyers, which is not prohibited under the Advocates Act.

Websites Selling Legal Services Violate Bar Council Rules

However, the Court noted that the websites provide ratings without any basis and appeared to be selling legal services for a fixed price, which contravenes the Bar Council of India Rules.

Rule 36 of Bar Council of India Rules Enforced

“Rule 36 of the Bar Council of India Rules specifically prohibits touting. Therefore, online websites/intermediaries cannot take shelter under section 79 of the Information Technology Act. The Advocates Act is an Act of Parliament, and the Bar Council of India has notified the Rules under this Act. Since soliciting, advertising directly or indirectly, whether by circular, advertisements, touts, personal communication, interviews not warranted by personal relations, furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments, or producing photographs to be published in connection with a case where the lawyer is engaged or concerned are unlawful activities, they are excluded from the safe harbour clause of section 79 of the Information Technology Act. Thus, the online website companies are also liable under the relevant Act and Rules,” the order stated.

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