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Advertising of lawyers

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Description: Promotion of a lawyer's or law firm's services in any media including television and radio commercials, outdoor billboards, newspapers or magazines, and direct mailings where a fee was paid for placement.


Significance: Until 1977 all advertising by individual lawyers or established law firms was tightly regulated by state bar associations and state supreme courts. Supreme Court decisions after 1977 reduced various restrictions on advertising in the legal profession.


In 1977 the Supreme Court addressed the limitations on advertising for lawyers in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona. The decision centered on the right of a legal firm to advertise in newspapers and other media, which was prohibited under the Arizona state supreme court's disciplinary rule. The Court found in favor of the defendant, viewing the restrictions placed on the law office as infringements of the First Amendment and contrary to the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. In delivering the opinion of the Court, Justice Harry A. Blackmun stated that “advertising does not provide a complete foundation on which to select an attorney.…The alternative the prohibition of advertising serves only to restrict the information that flows to consumers.” In subsequent decisions, the Court focused on the use of illustrations in advertisements (Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 1985) and the use of direct mailings toward potential new clients (Shapero v. Kentucky Bar Assn., 1988). In both cases, the limitations on advertising by lawyers and law firms were reduced.