Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The New York Bar Association is recommending changes in the way lawyers' advertising is reviewed. Back when I first moved to the Queen City of the Lakes I was involved with the Erie County Bar Association's Ethics Committee, and although there were a number of interesting and important issues that the committee took up, the question of lawyer advertising was a regular topic. People (other lawyers, mostly) would write in complaining about some lawyer's ad in the phone book or in a local pennysaver that said the lawyer "specialized" or somehow violated some other picayunee rule. One of the jokes on the committee was that what we really needed was a subcommittee on Bad Taste. Most of the stuff that the complainants were griping about would have fallen under the subcommittee's jurisdiction, and it sounds to me like NYSBA President A.Vincent Buzard should be considering a similar task force.

Lawyers don't like advertising for a number of reasons, I think. Part of it has to do with the old school image of ourglamour profession that many of us still carry around in our heads: leather upholstery, paneled walls, dignified, white-haired judges-- this is not the reality of the law for most people, or even most lawyers, but the bar association panjandrums charged with worrying about this sort of thing think that television commercials with flashing red police lights in the background make all lawyers look bad. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. It's commercial speech, and some limitations are appropriate, but most of the things that upset people are grist for the Subcommittee on Bad Taste. The other reason, I think, that many lawyers object to advertising is that it works. Ad execs joke that only 50% of advertising is effective, and that the good news is that nobody knows which 50%-- but make no mistake about it-- lawyer advertising is very effective. This means that a lot of people who thought they had a lock on a particular kind of work have discovered that suddenly they don't. I wouldn't pick a professional based on any sort of advertising, but that's actually how most people do pick lawyers. It'd be interesting to do a study and see if client satisfaction levels were the same between people who found their lawyer by way of advertising aqnd people who found their lawyer by way of referral-- I'd rather see the Bar Association looking into that.

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