Allahabad HC issues notice to online portals for advertising and soliciting of lawyers

The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court last week issued notice to a number of online portals for facilitating advertising and soliciting of lawyers.

The Bench of Justices Devendra Kumar Arora and Rajan Roy issued notice in a petition filed by advocate Yash Bharadwaj bringing to light the “commercial exploitation of the noble legal profession” by these online portals.

It is Bharadwaj’s contention that these portals are publishing advertisements showing that they have picked the best lawyers in 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…

37. 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 also 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”.

Bharadwaj’s also argued before 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.”

On an earlier date of hearing, the Court had issued notice to the Bar Council of India (BCI), the Bar Council of Uttar Pradesh, as well as the Central government. The Bench had also appointed Senior Advocate SK Kalia as amicus curiae to assist the Court.

When the matter was taken up on Wednesday, Kalia had submitted to the Court that the portals in question were soliciting advocates to get themselves registered, with the enticement that it would enhance their fee. After hearing the arguments, the Court ultimately held,

“…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.

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.

Bharadwaj appeared in person along with Advocate Sudeep Chatterji. Shailesh Kumar Pathak appeared for BCI, while Additional Advocate General Ramesh Kumar Singh appeared for the State of Uttar Pradesh. Additional Solicitor General SB Pandey represented the Centre.

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