The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has recently issued notice to a number of online portals for facilitating advertising and soliciting of lawyers.
The matter came up for hearing before a Bench comprising of Justices Devendra Kumar Arora and Rajan Roy in a petition filed by Advocate YashBharadwaj bringing to light the “commercial exploitation of the noble legal profession” by these online portals.
Advocate Bharadwaj, in his petition, has contended that these portals are publishing advertisements showing that they have handpicked the best/top/expert lawyers or advocates in the country, which is a violation of Rules 36 and 37 of the Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette framed under the Bar Council of India Rules. These provisions state as follows:
“36. An advocate shall not solicit work or advertise, either directly or indirectly, whether by circulars, advertisements, touts, personal communications, interviews not warranted by personal relations, furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments or producing his photographs to be published in connection with cases in which he has been engaged or concerned…
- An advocate shall not permit his professional services or his name to be used in aid of, or to make possible, the unauthorised practice of law by any law agency.”
It was argued that the online portals are unauthorized agencies of law, which have neither been recognized nor affiliated with Bar Council of India (BCI) or any State Bar Council or the Central or State Government, and “tinker with the legal profession in a manner which suits their financial interest”.
Advocate Bharadwajpointed out that “since no rules have been prescribed to regulate the blatant advertisement by the practicing advocates, therefore, individual lawyers are taking recourse to advertise themselves which in turn reduces the integrity of the entire community of lawyers in the eyes of the public.”
Further, it was also brought to the notice of the Court that“…lawyers enlisted with such websites/portals are not their employees because had they been their employees, then they would not have been entitled to practice which is prohibited as per Rule 49 of the Code of Ethics formulated under Section 49 (1) (c) of the Act. Furthermore, even sharing the remuneration or any other similar arrangement is violative of Rule 2 formulated by respondent No.2 under Section 49 (1) (ah) of the Act.”
Earlier on October 1, 2018, the Court had issued notice to the Bar Council of India (BCI), the Bar Council of Uttar Pradesh, as well as the Central government and appointed Senior Advocate SK Kalia as amicus curiae to assist the Court.
When the matter was again taken up for hearing on October 10, 2018, Advocate Kalia had informed the Court that the online portals which are mentioned in the writ petition are soliciting advocates to get themselves registered, with the enticement that it would enhance their fee and the professional earning.
After hearing the arguments, the Court held that “we are of the view that the issue raised in this petition requires attention of the Court specially considering the documents annexed with the writ petition wherein the lawyers are seen soliciting cases by advertising themselves through these portals which, we are prima-facie of the view is in the teeth of Rules 36 and 37 of the Bar Council of India Rules made under Advocates Act, 1961.”
Therefore, the Court issued notice to the online portals impleaded as respondents 4 to 21 and listed the matter for November 15, 2018.
In the interim, the Court directed the portals to adhere to the BCI Rules in “letter and spirit”. Any deviation from the same would invite legal consequences, the Court warned.