Lawyer Advertising—Good or Bad

All lawyers advertise their services in some form or fashion. Some do it by serving on boards. Others do it by performing legal services for their church or children’s schools, by writing legal articles or speaking at seminars, or by trying cases in court that attract media coverage. Whether one or more of these methods are used though, all of them historically have been considered legal and ethical methods for attorneys to inform the public of their involvement in the legal profession.

Direct mail solicitations in criminal and civil cases, television and radio advertisements touting a lawyers ability to handle primarily personal injury cases, and/or brokering of cases by runners or non-lawyers directing cases to particular lawyers with whom they might have a fee splitting arrangement were in the past all frowned upon and could lead to suspension of a law license and possible disbarment from the practice of law. However, in 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court authorized the removal of restrictions on lawyer advertising under the guise of the public’s right to know. In response, a yearly billion dollar industry was created and released on the general public all forms of advertising.

Now, television commercials, often by law firms from other states, advertise and solicit either prescription drug cases, mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases, class action law suits involving recalls of vehicles, or other products regularly appear every few minutes to urge the viewers to contact a certain law firm at some 1-800 number. It’s hard to notice, but most of the ads state in the small print at the bottom of the commercial that the case will probably be referred to another law firm for handling. The law firm whose name appears on the advertising will be given a forwarding or partial trial fee out of any settlement or recovery. Paid actors such as William Shatner and personable attorneys who have a good television presence regularly appear in ads to tout the alleged expertise of the law firm paying them.

Some times, alleged recovery amounts in personal injury cases are flashed upon the screen claiming a substantial settlement. Whether the amount recovered was actually a good result in light of the degree of injury, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and permanent disability is subject to analysis. For instance, if a case is settled for $250,000 and is actually worth $1,000,000 is that a fair result for an injured person?

It’s never mentioned that the cost of the expensive television advertising becomes part of the operating overhead of running a law office. This in turn increases the pressure for these firms to settle cases as soon as possible in order to pay a their advertising expense as part of the overall office budget.

Lawyer advertising has even entered the field of criminal law in Tennessee and elsewhere. In Nashville a lawyer had been seeking clients by placing an ad over the urinals in men restrooms in 50 restaurants urging defendants to call “DUI Dick” if charged with DUI.

How such advertising enhances the image of the legal profession is beyond the comprehension of the attorneys at Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers, P.C.

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