This article, New York State Bar Urges Attorney Ad Guidelines (John Caher, NYLJ, 2/2/06) reports on the New York State Bar Association’s House of Delegates’ report calling on the Administrative Board of the Courts to create statewide, uniform screening protocols for advertising. Curiously, the campaign to re-visit regulation of attorney ads is lead by biglaw attorneys, Bernice Leber of Arent, Fox who chaired the NYSBA task force on advertising and State Bar President A. Vincent Buzard, a partner at Harris Beach. Why are attorneys who don’t place ads or represent clients who come to them through ads leading the charge to revise rules on advertising?
It would be nice if everyone in this country could find law firms the way that biglaw clients do – either by conducting their own RFP or getting references from others. But the fact remains that many litigants still hire attorneys after seeing television ads, radio ads – and more recently, websites and weblogs. When we curtail advertising or require attorneys to jump through more hoops before they can advertise, we limit the public’s ability to find and hire a lawyer – and in so doing, we limit access to law.
The better solutions? Educate clients on how to find a lawyer and
increase resources to help them do so, without being entirely reliant
on ads. Many solos are already making more information available to prospective clients and increasing visibility by starting weblogs. Maybe the ABA and state bars could have pages linking to lawyer websites. The bars could also educate consumers on how to select a lawyer and how to interview a lawyer to figure out whether his or her ad is accurate, or hyperbole. The point is that if our profession is disturbed by ads that some believe detract from the dignity of our profession, let’s encourage the emergence of other options and teach consumers how to make good choices. Simply banning ads that we don’t like or that we claim makes the profession look bad doesn’t empower clients – it takes away choices that they might legitimately want.