The general rule is quite specific — lawyers may not claim to be a specialist in a particular field of law, with a few exceptions. All lawyers in Pennsylvania are bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct. They must follow these rules or be subject to disciplinary action by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 7.4 states:
A lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law. A lawyer shall not state that the lawyer is a specialist except as follows:
- a lawyer admitted to engage in patent practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office may use the designation “patent attorney” or a substantially similar designation;
- a lawyer engaged in admiralty practice may use the designation “admiralty,” “proctor in admiralty” or a substantially similar designation;
- a lawyer who has been certified by an organization approved by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania as a certifying organization in accordance with paragraph (b) may advertise the certification during such time as the certification of the lawyer and the approval of the organization are both in effect;
- a lawyer may communicate that the lawyer is certified in a field of practice only when that communication is not false or misleading and that certification is granted by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Many lawyers, however, concentrate their practice in specific areas of the law. Some lawyers will do only criminal cases, while others will only handle personal injury cases. The general practitioner, just like in the medical profession, who handles everything that “comes in the door” has become a thing of the past.
It is important when choosing a lawyer to find one who is competent in the field for which you need. While most lawyers have some familiarity with a wide range of legal issues, he or she may not regularly practice in all but a few areas of the law.
Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer how many active cases he or she in a particular field. The law is a constantly changing field, and a lawyer who does not regularly practice in a particular field may not be aware of the everyday changes that constantly occur.