Can a law student market herself to “future clients” while not licensed?

Jared Correia, respected advisor to Law Office Management Assistance Program for the Massachusetts Bar, commented in an interview with The Girl’s Guide to Law School as follows.

The shadow consideration underlying everything that I have said in answer to this question [ed. – regarding online marketing] is that future lawyers need not wait to graduate law school to begin to market themselves as entities, to showcase themselves for potential employers, or to create something of a track record of who they are as an attorney, for future potential clients to review, as a deeper look at where they came from, with the whole packaged online development perhaps ending up making the difference, at least initially, in who those future potential clients choose to hire. While law students cannot blog in the same way that practicing attorneys do, they can create a reputation for themselves based on those things that they can blog about: their legal subject interests, case notes/reviews, life as a law student, preparations for practice, and etc.

In the rest of the piece, Mr. Correia gives some wise advice regarding professionalizing one’s Facebook page and related topics both to non-attorneys and to attorneys. I think there is a lot of wisdom in the rest of the piece, but I have reservations about the comment above.

One really cannot be in the act of marketing a product or service which is unlawful to offer. Almost every state has an unauthorized practice of law statute criminalizing the practice of law without authorization. Many of those states have common-law criminal doctrines regarding attempted crimes, including my beloved Maryland, such that the act of marketing to “future clients.”

There is certainly nothing wrong with going out of one’s way to remove unprofessional material from one’s online presence to the extent that one can do so. Nor is there any problem with discussing law, the legal system or, for the most part, the practice of law; such commentary is protected under the First Amendment.┬áThe problem is in either offering legal advice or holding oneself out as someone who may lawfully offer legal advice. I don’t think that Mr. Correia was actually advocating anything on the wrong side of the line; indeed given his role I would astonished if he were to do so. The problem is that the readers of this blog are NOT lawyers but law students, i.e. people who not only have not been licensed by a Bar to offer legal advice for hire but who have not even necessarily passed a Professional Responsibility course in law school. Mr. Correia’s advice is like whiskey: a fine product but problematic for the inexperienced.

I can easily see an entrepreneurial-minded law student reader of the Girl’s Guide to Law School starting to “market” herself online to potential clients from her second-year law school dorm or apartment, using Mr. Correia’s advice (or maybe a unfair corruption of it) in doing so. The law student has no malpractice insurance; she’s uninsurable. She has probably not completed Professional Responsibility coursework. She read on a website interview of a respected law practice management leader that she can begin to market herself online, and there’s no Bar community, no mentor, no law professor on her laptop to stand athwart her ambition and shout “HALT!” Thus she jams both her quasi-clients and herself, when the Bar examiners in her state find her blog through Ye Olde Wayback Machine when she applies. The Girl’s Guide to Law School will not save her then.

None of this train wreck could be what Mr. Correia intended; he is by all appearances a conscientious and decent man with a strict ethical sense who would never wish such a mess on potential quasi-clients, law students or the Bar. But it’s not hard for me to see it happening.

Short answer in my view: there’s nothing wrong ethically with marketing oneself as a law student or future attorney to other attorneys for employment, and nothing wrong with commenting on the law or the legal profession, even at great length and detail. But there exists no license whatsover to market oneself to future clients without a valid law license; “future clients” don’t actually exist. Such marketing can begin, if at all, only after the last act or condition precedent necessary to perfect a law license application and approval is satisfied. In Maryland, that involves taking an oath in Annapolis on Rowe Boulevard before seven red-robed judges and signing an entry book on that day. Until then, neither clients nor future clients actually exist.

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