Let me start by saying that I generally hate lawyer ads on television. I’ve seen many of them and they are generally tacky and detrimental to the public’s perception of the legal system and the legal profession. Of course it could be said that they reflect the state of modern television. But having said that, I recognize several "truths" that some in New York do not seem to appreciate:
- The First Amendment has proven to be a very good idea and society should enact restrictions on what others can write and say with extreme caution.
- In any human endeavor, more information is preferable to less information.
- Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized lawyer advertising in Bates v State Bar of Arizona, there have many results (among them sleazy TV ads.) But competition and lowering of prices on some routine consumer legal services has been a result, too. Many injured people would have never learned of a potential claim or how to bring it were it not for lawyer advertising.
- Limiting information about the availability of legal services favors the powerful and established at the expense of the small firm, the beginner and the upstart. Many lawyers have been able to successfully establish careers since Bates when they would have been unable to do so under the old rules. The composition of any committee seeking to restrict advertising is therefore always a concern.
So the news that New York is considering radical new restrictions on lawyer advertising should give all of us concern.
If you’d like to be informed about the drawbacks to this proposal, I urge you to read Peter Boyd’s point by point criticism of the proposed rules. It is extremely well-written and should make you think twice even if you personally would like to ban lawyer advertising. You can read the proposed rules here. I just have to note that the idea it should be unethical to display a picture portraying a lawyer in a courtroom is just plain silly.
Dennis Kennedy calls the new rules "draconian" and "micro-managing." Dennis asks "Are we seeing the last gasp of an attempt to apply 19th century concepts to a 21st century world, or will lawyers be the only group able to roll back the changes the Internet has brought to the rest of the world? "
Carolyn Elefant of My Shingle, always a champion of the solo and small firm lawyer, has a thoughtful post with links to many other online criticisms of the rules, including this comment discussing the 30 day solicitation rule on the Legal Ethics Forum.
Let me note that the above comments are mine alone and not the opinion of my employer. My personal opinion is that we lawyers would probably be better off if all advertising was banned. Look at all of the money spent on the Yellow Pages ads that would remain in law firm bank accounts. I just don’t see how one can or should do that in a free society in the Information Age.