Even though advertising by lawyers has been legal since the early 1970's—ever since a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court—there is still a huge number of hoops that attorneys have to jump through when they advertise their services on TV, on the web, or in magazines and newspapers. The trouble lies with state bar associations, which impose rules on their members that range from overly cautious to utterly capricious—and that make lawyers leery about advertising their services at all, for fear of being fined or censured.
Advertising Can Be Difficult Enough Without the Interference of Other Lawyers
Just how much of an impediment—actual and psychological—are state bar associations to the business of legal marketing? Consider these examples:
- The New York State Bar Association recently tried to ban pop-up ads on lawyer websites, which would effectively deny lawyers a powerful marketing tool used by thousands of other professionals
- The Florida State Bar actually bans the use of certain sounds on attorney websites and commercials, on the premise that they can be used misleadingly
- The Kentucky State Bar insists on its right to pre-approve the newsletters sent out by lawyers 30 days in advance—but not, for some reason, these same lawyers' blog posts
- The North Carolina State Bar took issue with an attorney who promoted himself as a member of the “Million Dollar Advocate's Forum,” taking issue with the wording of this honor
- The advertising committee of the Connecticut State Bar actually performs “website audits,” and will take attorneys to task for niggling details that prospective clients wouldn't even notice.
The point of these examples is not that regulation is, per se, a bad thing—after all, we don't want a free-for-all market where everyone could say everything they wanted to in their advertising, without any regard to the truth. It's that lawyers can often be their own worst enemies, training their ammunition on each other when state governments already have ample resources with which to punish aberrant or unethical attorneys.