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Legal Advertising

Should Legal Advertising Be Restricted?

Despite a series of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court that lawyers may advertise their services, the issue of legal advertising remains controversial. Proponents of advertising contend that it provides to consumers information about their legal rights and allows those in need of legal services a way to find an attorney. Opponents charge that advertising demeans the legal profession because promoting legal services through print or electronic media tells the public that lawyers are only out to make money. With the rise of the INTERNET, legal advertising has moved into a new medium, generating even more questions about the need for restrictions on advertisements.

Opponents of legal advertising are primarily concerned with maintaining the law as a profession. As members of a profession, lawyers have pledged to serve the public interest. For much of U.S. history, lawyers have served as protectors of CIVIL RIGHTS and democratic institutions. Those who oppose legal advertising argue that this historic role must be preserved in the face of advertising that is sometimes undignified and demeaning to the profession.

State bar associations and state supreme courts have set standards for the ethical conduct of attorneys. Opponents of advertising believe that the regulation of advertising properly falls within the jurisdiction of these institutions. Though many attorneys may object that regulation restricts their FIRST AMENDMENT right to freedom of expression, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that states are without power to police the legal profession.

Opponents argue that even with the restrictions currently imposed, too many lawyers hurt the profession by producing radio and television advertisements that create the perception that lawyers are ambulance chasers. If restrictions were loosened, this group contends, some lawyers would become even more aggressive in soliciting business. Public dissatisfaction with lawyers and the legal system, which has grown considerably since the 1970s, would continue to increase.

Opponents of advertising believe that purposeful competition between lawyers for clients is a great evil of the profession. The legal profession must concentrate on public service rather than profits. When lawyers advertise they provide the public with a misleading picture of legal services, suggesting that legal issues can be solved as easily as a sink can be fixed. Because the law is complex, the consumer cannot evaluate the quality of the offered services.

Opponents also note that the high cost of advertising must be passed on to the consumer. Also, the financial burden of advertising may encourage a lawyer to pursue nonmeritorious litigation. In addition, if a lawyer works with a high volume of clients generated by advertising, the lawyer may have little opportunity to communicate with a client or fully analyze a legal issue brought to the lawyer.

Those who support fewer restrictions on legal advertising contend that bar associations and bar leaders are out of step with the realities of U.S. society. First, they argue that bar associations were organized in the late nineteenth century to ensure that lawyers were self-regulated. This meant that a bar association could control the behavior of its members and find ways to preserve the MONOPOLY over legal services. These supporters suggest that the public has not been well served by this system.

Though law is a profession, the need to make money has always been acknowledged. Supporters of advertising argue that it is therefore disingenuous for well-heeled lawyers to lament the introduction of competition. They point out that bar leaders have generally come from large corporate law firms, which have no need to advertise for clients but compete for profitable corporate retainers. These firms, they contend, have not provided public service but have concentrated on making profits. If corporate firms had helped with the unmet legal needs of society, perhaps advertising would not be necessary.

Proponents of advertising do not believe that professionalism, public service, and commercialism are mutually exclusive. They contend that lawyers can provide the public with a service by advertising. Much of legal advertising is educational, instructing consumers on what their legal rights are and where they may consult an attorney for free or for a minimal charge. Advertising reaches people who would not otherwise know what to do or where to go with a legal problem.

Proponents of advertising argue that placing the legal profession in the marketplace is not demeaning but democratic. Legal advertising breaks down the elitist notion that lawyers are somehow superior to others in the workforce. Lawyers provide services, many of which are simple. Competition helps to drive down the costs of legal services rather than increase them. Advertising does cost money, but innovative law firms have learned how to use forms, computers, and the services of legal assistants to reduce operating costs. In most cases the quality of legal services has not suffered. As with any business, if consumers are unhappy with the service they receive, they will not return. Proponents contend that the brisk business done by law firms that advertise is evidence of the quality of work they produce.

Those who favor legal advertising generally are convinced that advertisements provide consumers with information about legal services. As long as promotional material is not misleading or false, legal advertising should be subject to minimal restrictions. Proponents note, however, that most lawyers either refrain from advertising or do it in the most conservative way, so as to avoid censure by their bar associations.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Labor Department - Employment And Training Administration to Legislative PowerLegal Advertising - "spamming" The Net, Should Legal Advertising Be Restricted?, Further Readings