In Personam: Time to Sell Ourselves? Time to Sell Ourselves? | In Personam

In Personam

by Choo Dee Wei
Published May 31, 2017

Time to Sell Ourselves?

On the proposed amendments to the Legal Profession (Publicity) Rules 2001.

Here’s a question: Have you ever wondered why there aren’t televised advertisements of lawyers in Malaysia, like in the United Kingdom or in the United States?

There is reason for that.

In Malaysia, lawyers are faced with a host of rules on how they may publicise themselves, and what they can and cannot say or do as they go about it. These dos and don’ts are contained in the Legal Profession (Publicity) Rules 2001 (“Publicity Rules”), and are particularly strict.

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For instance, a lawyer shall not:

  • publicise in a manner as will be likely to diminish public confidence in the legal profession or to otherwise bring the legal profession into disrepute;

  • publicise in a manner as may reasonably be regarded as being misleading, deceptive, intrusive or in any other way unbefitting the dignity of the legal profession;

  • claim that he/she is a specialist or expert in any area of practice;

  • make any laudatory references to himself/herself or his/her firm; or

  • make any comparison with, or criticism in relation to the charges or quality of services provided by any other lawyer.  

When it comes to lawyers, the Publicity Rules even defines what the word ‘publicise’ means:

“Publicise” means to make known to the public through any form of advertisement, including an advertisement-

(a) published in any newspaper, journal, magazine, book, booklet, directory or other publication;

(b) contained in any letter, brochure, bulletin, business card, leaflet, nameplate, newsletter, notice, pamphlet or letterhead or stationery used for professional purposes; or

(c) placed in, stored in or transmitted through any electronic media accessible to the public or to any section of the public.

The definition above then leads to these other kinds of restrictions:

  • lawyers are allowed to distribute name cards discreetly and only on occasions where it is proper for the lawyer to establish his professional identity;

  • lawyers shall not permit any other person (not being his employee) to distribute business cards on their behalf; and

  • brochures, leaflets or pamphlets produced by lawyers can only be displayed at the premises of the firm of the said lawyers.

And if that is not enough, a lawyer may publicise only a select amount of details about themselves or their firms: i.e. the “approved information”. These are 19 basic details, such as a firm’s name, its address, its business hours and the like. Other information, those not within the definition of “approved information”, can only be publicised if the Bar Council gives its written approval.

Traditionalists take the view that if a lawyer is good in his trade, word of mouth will carry him through. However, unless clients are aware of his/her existence to begin with, is a lawyer then able to prove his/her worth? A conundrum really.

The restrictions by the Publicity Rules are therefore burdensome.

But there may be progress. On the 29th of May 2017, there was this report, “Bar: It’s time to rethink publicity rules for lawyers”, which raises the possibility that lawyers may be able to publicise themselves better soon enough, something which I find agreement with.

Is it time for the law to change? I would say so.