“Lawyer Owning a Website: Legal or Illegal”
Website is an online address of the owner of the website. Nowadays, many businesses use websites to showcase information, and the activities performed by the organisation are showcased on the website to engage their customers or clients. But, in India, lawyers are barred from advertising his service.
Every year thousands of lawyers are enrolled in India. But, neither law firms nor lawyers are permitted to advertise.
This prohibition of advertising by lawyers is based on the notion that law is a ‘noble profession’.
The prohibition of advertisement is to the extent that if a lawyer argues well in court, the issue might get reported in the news, but without mentioning the lawyer’s name.
Now, the question is, even after such prohibition of advertisement, is it possible for a lawyer in India to own a website?
Laws that prohibit Lawyers from advertising in India
Following laws prohibit advertising for lawyers:
Section 49 of Advocates Act, 1961
Section 49(1)(c) of the Advocates Act,1961 empowers the Bar Council of India to make rules that prescribe the etiquettes and professional conduct standards to be observed by advocates.
Bar Council of India Rules
Bar Council of India conferred the power to make rules by the Advocates Act, 1961. Thus, the Bar Council made rules under Chapter II of Part VI of BCI Rules and laid down the ‘Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette.’
Rule 36 provided under Section IV provides the bar against advertising and soliciting work: Accordingly, lawyers in India are not allowed to perform the following activities:
- Soliciting activity
- Advertisement directly or indirectly
- Self-promotion activities
- A nameplate that is bigger than a reasonable sign
- Nameplate or any stationery that shows the owner was the president or member of the bar council.
Various cases challenge the constitutionality of Rule 36 of the Bar Council of India Rules.
Tata Press Limited v. Mahanagar Telephone Nagar Nigam Ltd. & Ors.
In this case, Hon’ble Supreme Court held that ‘Commercial Speech’ is part of Freedom of Expression. Hence, advertising gets declared as a right to freedom of speech.
V.B. Joshi v. Union of India
Yet another case questions the validity of Rule 36 of the Bar Council of India Rules. In this case, the supreme court directs to amend the rules. According to the said amendment by the Supreme Court, the lawyers were allowed to advertise certain information on the website.
2008 Amendment of Rule 36
Rule 36 provided under Chapter II of Part VI of the Bar Council Rules gets amended in 2008. After the amendment, there was some relaxation given to the advocates. Thus, lawyers were allowed to furnish the information according to the particulars provided by the Bar Council of India.
Rule 36 allows the furnishing of certain information through the schedule attached to Rule 36.
The Bar Council of India Rules allows an advocate to have a website. So, a lawyer website can display:
- Name of the Lawyer
- Contact Number
- Email I’d
- Enrolment Number and details of Original and current enrollment ( Date and Bar council)
- Name of the bar association in which advocate is a member
- Qualifications both professional and academic
- Areas of Practice
Thus, after the amendment made in 2008, it is legal for a lawyer to own a website in India.
Can a lawyer own a website in India?
The answer to the question raised is Yes.
Yes, a lawyer can own a website in India. The credit to the legality of owning a website in India by a lawyer goes V. B. Joshi v. Union of India. After this case, having a website in India became legal.
As per the direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, the amendment incorporated certain conditions. If the lawyer fails to meet the condition or anything other than mentioned, he/she is liable for the penalty.
A Step towards a digital era
After 2008, every law firm set to build its website, raising creativity and growth opportunities for lawyers and law firms. The rule is just to post the contact information and list of lawyers. But the scenario has changed. Now law firms have moved towards blogs and articles other than just lists of lawyers and their contact information on their website.
The scenario changed utterly when the pandemic hit India in the year 2020. Every sector was hit badly due to nationwide lockdown when even the courts shifted to online mode. The lawyers and law firms started engaging the clients through their websites. And big law firms, to attract more clients, started actively posting on their websites. They tend to post content related to law, a blog, an article, a video, or anything else, allowing lawyers and law firms to gather attention. It made the legal profession keep up a step into the digital era.
Leading legal websites
Around October 2021, a survey was conducted with the help of Alexa to determine the engagement of websites. In the legal industry globally, firms like Linklaters ranked 338,186, and another firm, Allen & Overy, ranked 416,162. It was the situation of the website of the legal firms at the International Level.
When it comes to India, the Indian Law firm websites fall between 500,000 to 1.5 million ranks in terms of engagement.
Apart from the legal industry for which advertising is prohibited, owning a website is legal in India. Though, with owning a website, there come certain conditions. A lawyer or a law firm is required to adhere to such requirements.
The amendment of 2008 brought this change in the legal profession. This amendment allows law firms and lawyers to get easily into the legal industry and grow. The judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court has brought the legal industry to cope with the technological world and move forward as per the needs of society.
The conditions provided by the court depicts that the court does not want to give privilege to any one firm or senior lawyers. Still, the court is also interested in providing equal opportunity to the budding lawyers.