Rockwall Herald-Banner (Texas)

Opinion

August 16, 2009

‘Low points in lawyer advertising’

John Browning - Legally Speaking

As anyone who’s ever watched daytime or late night television can attest, “classy” is not a word one would associate with most lawyer advertising. Whether they’re calling themselves things like “The Hammer,” riding in tanks, or promising you big money for your injuries (whether you know you’ve been injured or not), lawyers in many commercials come across as well, kind of sleazy.

Don’t get me wrong — everyone deserves access to the courthouse, and lawyers representing people on a contingency fee basis often provide the only way to level the playing field between an injured claimant and a big corporation. And courts have repeatedly ruled that lawyers’ First Amended rights permit them to advertise. Of course, each state regulates just what is and isn’t allowed in attorney advertising.

Typically, lawyers can’t create unjustified expectations about results or make misrepresentations about their abilities. Some states restrict advertising that reflects poorly on the legal profession, such as the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to discipline the lawyers who used a pit bull logo and “1-800-PIT-BULL” phone number in their advertising. Ironically, the only non-lawyer who had complained was a pit bull breeder who felt that being associated with lawyers was bad for the dogs’ image!

Despite the best efforts of bar administrators, lawyer ads that push the boundaries of bad taste continue to occur. In late July, 2009, New Jersey’s Committee on Attorney Advertising held a hearing to determine whether legal ethics lines were crossed by the placement of a lawyer’s flyer on the windshield of a rape victim’s car. The victim, known in court papers as K.D., had been sexually assaulted in December 2006 during an inspection of her federally subsidized apartment by a Newark Housing Authority employee. After K.D. reported her rape, four other female tenants came forward to testify about similar incidents, and the rapist was caught and sentenced on multiple counts. But about two months after the assault occurred, K.D. found an orange flyer on her car’s windshield from Fred Zemel’s Newark law firm touting the lawyer’s services to anyone who’d been the victim of “rape and assault in your building or apartment.”

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