In this blog post, Ankit Suri, a student at Bangalore Institute of Legal Studies and pursuing a Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws from NUJS, Kolkata, describes the importance of internet marketing for advocates.
Internet marketing, a platform for advertising the credibility of one’s establishment or enterprise, has taken over the field of advertising to a great extent. This inclusion in the world of advertising has been an addition to the traditional types of advertising such as television, radio, newspapers and magazines.
If internet marketing has to be defined as a whole, it can be referred to as marketing efforts that use the web and e-mail to drive direct sales through electronic commerce. In simpler terms, it is a method of promoting a brand, products or services over the internet. On deeper analysis, in the field of online advertising or internet marketing, it is evident that the branches of internet marketing are variant and categorical.
Advertising is a very essential part of any business to either communicate to your existing customers or to attract new ones to purchase your products or services and with the current economic climate, many businesses are having to fight extra hard to make money and to compete against their competitor. Looking at the present scenario, it had become very evident that for any business venture to flourish, it is very important that “a good advertising and marketing tool is your website and a good online presence is vital”.
Methods of Internet Marketing:
To avoid ambiguity in understanding the methodology and objective of the field, it can be sub-classified based on the various modes of internet marketing as listed below:
- E-Mail Marketing
The objective is evident from the name i.e. reaching out to the customers via e-mail.
- Inbound Marketing
The main aim of this method is to attract the local customers by sharing free valuable content online. This is commonly achieved by setting up a business blog.
- Search Engine Marketing
This is a type of internet marketing that helps to promote a business through paid advertisements.These advertisements appear on search engine result pages. This includes paid placement, contextual advertising, paid inclusion or through search engine optimization.
- Affiliate Marketing
It is a practice of marketing wherein a business pays an online retailer, e-commerce site or blog for each visitor or sales that these websites make for their brand.
- Social Media Marketing
This mode of marketing is probably the most widely used method in all professions spreading across all fields.This type of internet marketing involves both advertising and marketing efforts via social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Internet Marketing in the Field Of Advocacy
Online marketing which is legal allows lawyers to promote their services using the resources available on the internet. As per statistics in 2016, it is found that an estimated 9 million people use the internet each month to search for legal services. At the same time, the number of people using the conventional sources like magazines and newspapers started reducing by the passing day. It was clear that the need of the hour was for an online platform of advertising lawyers and advocates, with the prime motive of making legal services more accessible and available to the general public.
The general perspective of any individual on online legal advertising would be advertising and marketing lawyers and law firms but, online marketing for lawyers may also include other aspects of practice, such as public relations, peer-to-peer networking, and online reputation management. It is quite common for lawyers to work through marketing firms that specialize in web-based advertising campaigns on small and large scales.
The Different Forms of Online Legal Marketing Around the World
One of the most traditional forms of online legal marketing is simple advertising on the internet. Pay-per-click ads allow attorneys to strategically place ads in various locations on the internet. This is done by the advocates paying the advertising agency based on size and duration of the segment.
- Social Network and Blogs
Apart from online advertising, lawyers can engage in a number of practices that are aimed at increasing their firm’s visibility and presence on the internet. These can include writing legal blogs, link sharing, and creating social network accounts in order to promote services. More comprehensive forms of online legal marketing include online legal directories and online legal matching.
- Online Legal Directories
A very essential aspect of legal marketing is making the customer aware of the available options of attorneys and advocates based on the area of specialization and practice. Online legal directories provide the clients with a list of attorneys along with basic information regarding the area of practice and contact information. Some of the online legal directories have lately included the feature of rating the advocates based on their personal experience, giving the consumers an opportunity to go through existing reviews before taking a step forward.
- Online Legal Matching
This is a very different method of legal marketing. Here, clients can connect directly with lawyers through online legal matching, also called Attorney-Client Matching (ACM). This gives an opportunity to the consumers to have a brief word with the attorney which will help the client to narrow down options with regard to the advocate.
Although this method of legal marketing is not used in every sector of litigation, many attorney-client matching websites such as LegalMatch.com allow clients to communicate with attorneys before hiring them. This method helps save time and resources. Since the consumer is free to accept or decline the services after the conversation with the advocate, it makes this practice a very effective and innovative one.
Laws Banning Advertising for Legal Professionals In India
The lawyers in India are barred from advertising their profession under the Advocates Act, 1961 and Bar Council of India Rules. This is in view of considering the profession to be a noble one and such advertising to be derogatory to that profession.
In general opinion, advertisements are meant to be there with the prime motives of spreading awareness and also increasing competition amongst the dealers of similar commodities, which only ensures better quality and service to the consumers. It is because of this general opinion that raised the question in the minds of people that, “Is this ban on advertising of legal professionals in India a viable plan in this modern-era?” In spite of these doubts, after the formation of the WTO post the Second World War, the ban on advertising rights on legal professionals in India had become inevitable.
In the view of the above background, the following are the laws banning the advertising for legal professionals in India and their implications considering the position of such laws in other developed countries owing to the WTO norms and globalization and the need to do away with such age-old laws.
- The Law under Bar Council of India Rules and Advocates Act 1961
The Bar Council of India, pursuant to its functions mentioned under Section 7(1)(b) of the Advocates Act, read with its powers to make rules under Section 49(1)(c) has framed Rule 36 of the Bar Council of India Rules under Section IV(Duty to Colleagues) of Chapter IIof Part IV).
Rule 36 which states that 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 and such other restrictions on advertising.
- Judiciary on this Rule
The courts have agreed to the view of the Bar Council and have implemented the rules laid down by the council pertaining to advertising. In “Bar Council of India v. M. V. Dhabolkar”, the Supreme Court held that “Law is not a trade, not briefs, not merchandise, and so the heaven of commercial competition should not vulgarize the legal profession”.
- Constitutional Validity of Rule 36 of the Bar Council of India Rules
The “Rule 36” of Bar Council of India Rules prohibit advocates from advertising. This is in general interpretation against fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India.
Although this Rule cannot be challenged with regards to Article19(1)(a) i.e. freedom of speech and expression, as done in US in the case of “Bates v. Arizona State Bar”, because of the decision of Indian Supreme Court in the case of “Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union Of India”. The Supreme Court came on to decide the validity of law banning an advertisement for the sale of certain medicines in this case against Article 19(1)(a) of Constitution of India.
On analyzing the various aspects of Internet marketing across all professions especially advocacy, it is very evident that the inclusion of the online platform in the field of advertising has been revolutionary. The massive impact of this revolution is the main reason for the difference in opinion regarding online advertising of legal professionals across various nations.
The ban on legal commercials in India, being a result of considering the profession of advocacy as a noble one, improbable of being adulterated by advertising, has not proved healthy so far for the Indian economy as well as the Indian consumers. Even though Legal practitioners in India are slowly beginning to cross the forbidden wall of online advertising, I feel the need of the hour is for complete freedom for Online Legal Advertising, keeping the prime interest of any law in mind, “Public Interest”.
What do you think? Should law restrict the use of Internet Marketing for Advocates? Drop your views as comments below & don’t forget to share the article with your friends.
Rule 36: Bar Council of India Rules: “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. His sign-board or name-plate should be of a reasonable size. The sign-board or name-plate or stationery should not indicate that he is or has been President or Member of a Bar Council or of any Association or that he has been associated with any person or organisation or with any particular cause or matter or that he specialises in any particular type of worker or that he has been a Judge or an Advocate General.”