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Bates v. State Bar of Arizona


By emphasizing the public's right to know about legal fees, the Court opened the profession up to greater competition and added to the development of the commercial speech doctrine, which extends some First Amendment protections to advertising.

John Bates and Van O'Steen were attorneys licensed to practice law in the state of Arizona. Together, they opened a legal clinic in Phoenix, and by accepting only a limited range of uncomplicated cases and making extensive use of such cost-saving measures as paralegal support and standardized legal forms, they were able to provide legal services for modest fees. After two years, they decided that their practice would only survive if they advertised their fees to the community. In doing so, however, they violated a state bar disciplinary rule--included in the rules of the Arizona Supreme Court--prohibiting lawyers from publicizing themselves commercially. The State Bar's Board of Governors responded by recommending that both Bates and O'Steen be suspended from the practice of law for a week. After the Arizona Supreme Court upheld their suspension, the two lawyers appealed this ruling directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Blackmun, writing for the Court, had no trouble dispensing with Bates and O'Steen's argument that the Arizona disciplinary rule prohibiting lawyer advertising was an illegal restraint of trade. The Sherman Antitrust Act, which the appellants cited to support this proposition, did not apply to their case, as the disciplinary rule was an act of a sovereign state government which was not subject to federal regulation. The First Amendment argument, however, proved convincing.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Bates v. State Bar of Arizona - Significance, Commercial Speech Doctrine Extended To Lawyer Advertising, Advertising Lawyers, Further Readings