Have you encountered what you believe to be misleading advertising by someone who is or appears to be in the legal profession? Lawyers and law firms are allowed to advertise their services in newspapers, in directories, in magazines, on the radio, on television, and on the Internet. However, Georgia law prohibits the intentional false advertisement of legal services by attorneys and others who represent they can provide legal services. Legal ads must not contain statements that are fraudulent, deceptive, untrue or misleading.
Under the rules of conduct of the State Bar of Georgia, a legal ad can be considered a false advertisement if it:
- Misrepresents the facts by leaving out necessary information;
- Creates unjustified expectations of what the attorney can do;
- Compares the advertising lawyer’s services to those of another lawyer or lawyers without substantiation;
- Mentions contingency fees without further explanation; or
- Claims “No fee unless you collect or win,” without pointing out possible associated costs that are usually paid by the client.
Be sure to read the ad’s disclaimers for important additional information. For instance, a disclaimer is the required method of disclosing what may and may not be included in an attorney’s contingency fees.
Any legal advertisement must include the name of the lawyer or law firm who created the ad and who is responsible for its content. Georgia law does not hold the company publicizing the ad responsible for misrepresentations or omissions, unless it can be proved that the publisher or media outlet was aware of these in advance.
While advertisements may include any professional associations to which the lawyer belongs, a lawyer may not imply any connection to organizations with which he or she has no affiliation. If the ad offers only the services of one particular attorney or law firm, a majority of the responding callers may not be referred to another attorney or law firm.
In addition, a law passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Kemp in 2023 expands the Attorney General’s powers to investigate solicitations in any media that may be unlawful. Examples of misrepresentations include:
- They contain misleading statements that are untrue, fraudulent or deceptive;
- A person or entity misrepresents the true nature of his or her business and misrepresents that he or she can provide legal services;
- Individuals in advertising are falsely portrayed as clients;
- A person featured in advertising is falsely representing that he or she was admitted to the Georgia Bar or is permitted to offer legal services;
- The solicitation fails to provide qualifying language to prevent an individual from being deceived or having a mistaken impression.
You may file a complaint of false advertisement of legal services with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. Under Georgia Law, the Attorney General is authorized to investigate legal advertising that might be misleading. Should that investigation reveal a violation of the law, the Attorney General, after providing the alleged violator with the opportunity for a hearing, may:
- Issue a public reprimand;
- Issue a cease and desist order against the offender, the violation of which is a misdemeanor;
- Report any such action to the State Bar of Georgia or any other entity governing or supervising the legal profession, and to publicize any such action in a medium or media likely to reach the recipients of the improper advertising