July 28, 1980
It is improper, under the present Michigan Code of Professional Responsibility, for a lawyer to advertise that he or she specializes in the field of real estate, estates, and estate planning and probate law. However, the lawyer may advertise that these fields are included in his or her practice.
References: CI-457, CI-381; Administrative Order 1978-4; Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977).
Inquiry is made as to whether it is proper to insert in the yellow pages of the telephone book with the words that you specialize in "real estate, estates, and estate planning and probate matters." You state that you have done a great deal of real property work and feel that you would have a higher than average expertise in this field, but do not feel that you would be more experienced than the average attorney in estate work. You will not be limiting yourself to these fields of practice. However, you intend to further your expertise in this field by seminars, additions to you library and from experience.
Since the United States Supreme Court decision of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977) and the Michigan Supreme Court Administrative Order 1978-4, a member of the State Bar of Michigan may "participate in the use of any form of public communication that is not false fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive." Therefore, you may insert an appropriate ad in the yellow pages of the telephone directory. The only question would be as to whether listing yourself as a specialist in a certain field would be in anyway misleading or deceptive. Michigan does no recognize specialization in the field of estate planning and probate law. It would, therefore, be misleading if an attorney advertised that he or she was specialized in these fields. Specialization involves, as stated in the comments to the new proposed Model Rules of Professional Conduct, both specialization in fact and formally recognized specialization. Some professions provide for the designation of specialization in particular fields, such as is done in the practice of medicine, engineering, etc. The State Bar of Michigan recognizes specialization only in the field of patent, trademarks, and admiralty law.
It would be misleading for an attorney to state in an advertisement that he or she specializes in the law of real estate, estates, and estate planing and probate matters. However, it would be permissible to state that your practice includes real estate, estates, estate planing, and probate law, because your practice does include these fields at this time.
The discussion draft of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct prepared by a committee of the American Bar Association do provide for the states to make provisions on designation of specialization in various fields of law. See CI-457 and CI-381.