By Elaine Craig and posted to SSRN October, 2014
Online advertising has become a primary source of information about legal services. This trend towards web-based marketing of legal services poses new challenges to the regulation of the legal profession. Challenges which, to date, have not been fully met. It also creates a new source of data for researchers studying aspects of the legal profession such as legal ethics, lawyers’ perspectives and strategies, and legal discourse.
The objective of this study is to examine the most prominent websites in Canada that advertise legal representation for individuals accused of sexual offences. The study of these websites yielded two types of observations regarding the commercial expression engaged in by this subset of the criminal defence bar. The first pertains to the parameters of ethical advertising by criminal defence lawyers who practice sexual assault law. A significant subset of lawyers who advertise legal representation services to individuals accused of sexual offences engage in commercial expression that appears to be inconsistent with the limits and guidelines specified in their professional codes of conduct. The study produced a second observation. Examination of these websites offers a window into the narratives about sexual assault that some defence lawyers construct for their clients, and perhaps also the perspectives about sexual assault held by defence lawyers themselves.