Do legal ads create negative image for attorneys?

The Madison County Record Oct. 27, 2004, 12:00pm

With the advent of super centers for class action plaintiffs, such as, and TV, radio and print ads that troll for injured workers and societal victims, do legal advertisements create a negative image for attorneys?

"While a lot of attorneys may disagree with the notion of legal advertising and what they deem tasteful, I ask the legal community to put aside their dislikes and respect the First Amendment rights of those who choose to advertise within the framework of ethical behavior," said Ed Herman, an attorney for the giant St. Louis-based personal injury firm, Brown & Crouppen.

"Letting their love for First Amendment protection supersedes any distastefulness they may find," he said.

Brown & Crouppen regularly advertises on TV seeking potential plaintiffs, sometimes as often as 50-100 times a day during peak legal movements, Herman said.

A flood of consumer fraud class action suits that have been filed across the country against the maker of Vioxx--a pain medication that was recently pulled from the market--is one such hot legal movement. Brown & Crouppen ads currently running for the Vioxx-injured serve to "inform, educate and inspire people who would otherwise not take action," Herman said.

Ross Fishman, owner of creates ads for corporate and public sides of law and says there's nothing wrong with lawyers' advertising their expertise.

"When done appropriately, I believe that it actually improves the public's perception of lawyers' professionalism, and increases people's access to the legal system," Fishman said. "If you look at our ads, you'll see that it shows how lawyers help people at the most difficult times in their lives. What could be more professional than highlighting how lawyers help people?"

Recognizing that some attorneys face scorn among their peers, Fishman chocks it up to embarrassment and jealousy.

"So many of the shrieking television commercials and billboards are amateurish, which lawyers feel reflect badly on their cherished profession," Fishman said. "Second, we know that by advertising effectively, many of them are getting extraordinarily wealthy, which breeds some secret resentment. I just don't believe that we should seek a legislative solution to solve the problem that 'other lawyers are getting richer than I am'."

Not everyone in the legal profession is satisfied with the state of advertising affairs. Bar associations around the country are discussing the need for increased regulations on legal advertisements, raising questions about the nature of ads and whether advertisements are inherently misleading.

Will Hornsby, an attorney for the American Bar Association participated in a study examining how family income affects choosing legal representation. "It showed that 20 percent of those with low incomes found a lawyer through some sort of advertising, usually the Yellow Pages," Hornsby said. "This far exceeded other forms of delivering legal services such as lawyer referral services and group or prepaid legal plans. Approximately 12 percent of moderate income people found their lawyers through advertising."

Fishman believes that advertising is a productive and positive advancement in the legal profession.

"It has improved access to the legal system for millions of people," he said. "Without Yellow Pages advertising, millions of consumers would have greater difficulty finding lawyers for their most desperate legal needs. It has helped humanize lawyers, so average people who need lawyers urgently now feel that they can call to get help. I feel really good about being a small part of this process."

A Saint Louis University law student weighed in on the subject, stating, "It is one thing for lawyers to advertise general services and specialties. However, actively soliciting specific groups of people to determine if they have a legitimate legal claim is beyond general advertising."

Debate on legal advertisement has been constant since the Supreme Court's 1977 decision in which it ruled in favor of Bates in Bates vs. State Bar of Arizona. The high court ruled that advertising legal services was protected by the First and 14th Amendment.

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