$1 Billion

Update: March 28 at 3:43 PM.  Avvo’s Josh King was nice enough to let me know that the $1 billion is only on tv ads.  Josh indicates that the amount spent on all attorney advertising is between $4 and $5 billion.

This year, it’s estimated that U.S. lawyers and law firms will spend over $1 billion on advertising.

$1 Billion.

You read that correctly.

The ABA Journal has the story here: Legal Advertising Blows Past $1 Billion And Goes Viral.

By comparison, in FY 2015, the Legal Services Corporation’s budget was $375 million.  (Editorializing? Maybe.  But, also, fact.)

Some of the lawyers/firms highlighted in the ABA Journal’s article:

  • an all-female firm that uses the catchphrase “Ever Argue with a Woman?
  • an attorney whose ads made him such a celebrity that a mother threw a birthday party for her 2-year-old in which the theme was…..the attorney.
  • a lawyer whose alter ego is the Texas Law Hawk.
  • the lawyer who originated the campaign “If you are injured in a car accident, call us immediately” and whose firm now spends between $30 and $40 million per year on advertising.

The article also includes an interesting recap of the history of lawyer advertising.  From the days when the ABA’s Canons of Professional Ethics banned nearly all advertising and, referring to lawyer advertising, included the ominous statement that “[t]he future of the republic, to a great extent, depends upon our maintenance of justice, pure and unsullied,” to the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizonato today’s landscape.

I’ve worked in the Professional Responsibility Program since 1999.  We’ve not received many advertising complaints. Maybe 5 or 6 in 18 years.

Vermont’s advertising rules are in Rules 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4, and 7.5.   It’s a violation to advertise a firm as being “injury experts” and “the experts” in particular areas of law.  It’s also impermissible to advertise as a “County’s Premier Criminal Defense Firm.”

I’ve never been a huge fan of the advertising rules.  I’m not against them, just not a fan.

The Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers recommended that the ABA streamline its Model Rules on advertising.  The comment period closed on March 1.  I’m curious to see how the ABA responds.

$1 Billion.  On ads.

jimmy mcgill




Truth & Advertising?

From the ABA Journal, here’s an interesting story from Georgia.  At issue: television ads run by a plaintiffs firm.  The ads urge viewers to “spread the word” that in most “car crash cases, the person who caused the crash has insurance but the jury is never allowed to know.”

Per the story, the defense bar argues that the ads verge on jury tampering, improperly attempt to influence jurors, and constitute conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal. See, V.R.Pr.C. 3.5.  The plaintiffs firm responds that the ads are true and that any ban thereof would “violate our First Amendment right to free speech.”

Surely, a challenge to the ads would raise substantial questions for a court to consider.

Besides the issues mentioned in the article, Rule 3.5(a) states that “[a] lawyer shall not seek to influence a judge, juror, or prospective juror or other official by means prohibited by law.” (emphasis added).  I’d always assumed that a “prospective juror” was a person in the pool; that is, an individual summoned for duty, but not yet “picked” for a particular jury.  However, in a sense, we’re all “potential” jurors.  Could Rule 3.5(a) possibly extend that broadly?

And how might Rule 3.6(a) apply?  The rule prohibits a lawyer who is “participating or has participated in the investigation of a matter…..[from making] an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of  materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.”   The answer, it seems, is that the rule doesn’t apply:  there’s no “matter.”  Rather, the ads provide general information on state law.

On that point, whether by television ad or at a public forum, is it impermissible for lawyers to inform the public what the law is?  I’m talking outside the context of a specific matter or case.  Would you look at this issue differently if, instead, it was a private criminal defense firm running ads “informing” the public about rape-shield statutes?

Food for thought. But, for now, please think about the issue (if at all) outside!  To paraphrase my man Kenny, the sun is too bright, the sky is too blue, and the foliage is too spectacular to be thinking about legal ethics.  Save ethics for a rainy day.