The inquirer has asked whether or not he may include on his website pictures of himself and celebrity friends from the sports, entertainment and political fields. At least some of people depicted are the inquirer's clients. The inquirer does not plan to use any caption on the photographs. The inquirer has added that one of the purposes of displaying the photographs is to demonstrate to viewers of his website that he is acquainted with and familiar with high profile individuals.
The Committee believes that the use of such photographs would violate Pennsylvania Rule (the "Rules") of Professional Conduct 7.2(d) which provides that "no advertisement or public communication shall contain an endorsement by a celebrity or public figure." The comments to 7.2(d) state that "[t]he prohibition against endorsement by a celebrity or public figure is consistent with the purpose of Rule 7.1 to avoid the creation of an unjustified expectation of a particular legal result on the part of a prospective client."
Because no caption or explanation of the photographs is intended, one might argue that the intended message is benign, but that is plainly not so. The usage of the photographs in the manner described would violate this provision in that the clear intent of their use is to imply either that the prominent persons depicted have endorsed the usage of the lawyers’ services, and/or that the inquirer’s association with prominent figures enables him to achieve better results than lawyers not associated with such persons.
This view is consistent with prior Committee deliberations on this topic. Previously the Committee has concluded that the use of a verbal endorsement or comment by a local sports celebrity in an attorney’s advertisements would constitute an implied endorsement and thus be a violation of Rule 7.2(d).
Moreover, the Committee believes that it is also worth noting that the usage of the photographs may also implicate Rule 1.6 which provides that, "[a] lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, except for disclosures that are impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, . . ." The inquirer has not stated whether he will request permission to use the photographs from the individuals depicted. If he did not do so, then use of the photographs of clients could constitute a violation of Rule 1.6 in that it would be revealing information regarding a client, specifically that the person is a client, without that client's permission. The inquirer could solve that problem by obtaining the client's informed consent to do so, but in that case, it seems to the Committee very likely that obtaining the required informed consent as to the purpose of the use of the photographs in fact confirms that the inquirer is trying to imply some type of endorsement by the celebrity.
For all the foregoing reasons, The Committee holds that the usage of the photographs in the manner discussed would violate the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct.
CAVEAT: The foregoing opinion is advisory only and is based upon the facts set forth above. The opinion is not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. It carries only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.