“Expert Criminal Lawyer, Specializing in DUI’s”, “Our Attorneys are Experts in Criminal Law”, “We Specialize in Criminal Law”, “Hire an Expert Criminal Law Specialist”………You see these phrases all over the internet on web sites for Seattle and Washington State criminal lawyers. One problem. Actual expert lawyers or specialists in criminal law, by definition, know the law. Knowing the law entails knowing more than one thing, despite the way these ads emphasize expert specialization. For example, expert lawyers know enough about the law to know that it is unethical and improper to advertise that you are an expert in criminal law or specialize in criminal law in Washington State (unless you follow extremely strict guidelines).
Why? Because under the rules regarding advertising created by the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) it is improper to call yourself an expert unless you meet some very specific requirements. Attorney conduct in Washington State is governed by the WSBA Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC’s). The analysis of this issue begins with RPC 7.1: A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is 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.”
What is misleading? Well, traditionally, only a few areas were specifically recognized as specialties in Washington: Patents, Admiralty, and Tax. The rule governing specialization requires that, before an attorney can claim to be a specialist in any other area, that lawyer must have received formal receipt of a certificate, award or formal recognition by an appropriate organization: “A lawyer shall not state or imply that a lawyer is a specialist in a particular field of law, except upon issuance of an identifying certificate, award, or recognition by a group, organization, or association…” (RPC 7.4).