Italian lawyers cannot publicize the names of their clients

30 maggio 2017

On 19 April 2017 (judgment n. 9861) the Italian Corte di Cassazione confirmed that Italian lawyers can not publish on the website of their law firm the names of their clients even if the clients have consented to the publication.

Although, following the 2003 reform, it is now possible for Italian lawyers advertise on professional qualifications, characteristics of the legal services offered and related price and costs, the Consiglio Nazionale Forense (the government body of Italian lawyers) has traditionally held that the disclosure of clients names is prohibited if done directly by the lawyer. Futhermore this prohibition is now expressly provided for by the new Code of Professional Ethics (Article 35, para. 8) in force since 2014.

In the recent judgment the judges of the Italian Supreme Court shared the position of the Consiglio Nazionale Forense on the assumption that the lawyer is not only a professional service provider but also a necessary participant in the exercise of the judicial function. For this reason, the relationship between the lawyer and the clientcan not be deemed a mere professional relationship between private persons and can not simply be relegated to the market logic in which the parties may waive their rights. The public interest in a "correct" administration of judicial function would therefore render irrelevant any consent given by the client to the disclosure of his name by his lawyer. In other words, the focus is not on the protection of any privacy right of clients, but on the public judicial function and on the role of the lawyer with respect to the latter.

According to the Italian Supreme Court, the possibility for the lawyer to disclose the names of his clients - even with the consent of them - could cause interferences, conditioning and exploitations, whose concrete manifestation, however, does not seem completely clear (and the examples provided by the Italian supreme judges appear somewhat imaginative).

In the reasoning of the Italian supreme judges is entirely missing any consideration regarding the protection of the interest of lawyers' clients concerning benefits deriving from any useful information in order to put the client himself in the best condition to make a fully aware choice with respect to the lawyer to whom to rely. It is clear that the possibility to get access to the names of the clients of a specific lawyer can be very useful for prospective clients, also in order to collect an evaluation of the services provided by the lawyer under consideration.

Beyond a conception of the legal profession far from a transparent and competitive vision of legal services, it shall be highlighted that the result that the Consiglio Nazionale Forense would like to achieve (the anonymity of clients of a specific lawyer ?) is often frustrated by advertising that is freely made by the press and law magazines which daily associate specific lawyers with the names of their clients, without anyone complaining for impairment of the professionalism, ethics and fairness of attorneys involved.

Click here for the full text (in Italian) of the judgment.

Raffaele Torino

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