By: Daniel Weir

On October 13, 2016, the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure of Maryland submitted to the Court of Appeals of Maryland a proposed amendment to Rule 19-307.4(a) to remove the prohibition against an attorney from “holding him or herself out publically as a specialist.”[1]   The debate on whether to allow lawyers in Maryland to assert themselves as “specialists” or obtain certifications reflecting a specialty has gone on for over 40 years.[2]  Maryland held out for many years despite Supreme Court decisions observing that attorney advertisements were First Amendment forms of commercial speech.[3]  At the time of the Committee hearing to change Rule 19, Maryland was only one of two states with an outright prohibition on advertising as a specialist.[4]  Many Maryland attorneys were already holding themselves out as specialists on a strictly word-of-mouth basis.[5]

It would seem that the main control over this new rule is an already existing rule – Rule 19.307.1.   The committee indicated that “[a]ll advertising by attorneys is subject to Rule 19-307.1, which precludes attorneys from making a false or misleading communication about the attorney or the attorney’s services and, in relevant part, declares a communication to be false or misleading if it ‘contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.’”[6]

On December 13, 2016, the Court of Appeals of Maryland decided to adopt the Committee’s recommendation.[7]  An argument in favor of the change stated that lawyers who have practiced a particular type of law for a long period of time have earned the right to hold themselves out as specialists.[8]  The argument against the change was that young lawyers who are not yet specialists will have a harder time selling their services to clients if they are not yet specialists; the change could force a new attorney to simply pick one type of law and lock in early to gain the specialist title.[9]  This perspective hints at legal factionalism, whereas before, perhaps someone in a firm could primarily practice criminal law and do some immigration law work as needed.  Whether the lift on the prohibition will aid or frustrate the practice of law in Maryland will be observed when the change goes into effect April 1, 2017.[10]  Only time, and the cases opined by the Attorney Grievance Commission, will set the parameters as to how this change will truly take shape.


DweirDaniel Weir is a 3L Student Editor. Daniel has an interest in criminal and mental health law.  Daniel enjoys exploring the mountains of Western Maryland and performing minor automotive repairs and maintenance on domestic vehicles.  You can view is linkedin here.

[1] Standing Committee On Rules of Practice and Procedure, Notice of Proposed Rule Changes, Report 191, http://www.mdcourts.gov/rules/reports/191st.pdf (2016) [hereinafter Notice of Proposed Rule Changes].

[2] Id.

[3] Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977).

[4] Notice of Proposed Rule Changes, supra note 1.

[5] Steve Lash, Attorneys May Advertise as Specialists, Court Of Appeals Says, Daily Record, http://thedailyrecord.com/2016/12/14/attorneys-may-advertise-as-specialists-court-of-appeals-says/ (Dec. 2016).

[6] Notice of Proposed Rule Changes, supra note 1.

[7] The Court of Appeals of Maryland, Md. Orders 2016-18, http://www.mdcourts.gov/rules/rodocs/191ro.pdf (2016). [hereinafter Md. Orders].

[8] Scott McMullen, Dropping the Specialization Ban Makes Sense, The Daily Record, http://thedailyrecord.com/2016/12/15/dropping-the-specialization-ban-makes-sense/ (Dec. 2016).

[9] Id.

[10] Md. Orders, supra note 7.

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