Rules of Professional Responsibility and Attorney Advertising
ABA Model Rule 7.2 directly addresses attorney advertising, with the remaining Rules 7.1-7.6 addressing related issues such as solicitation. Many states have adapted these rules rather than adopting them wholesale, so it’s important to be aware of the specific rules in your state and the ethics opinions interpreting those rules.
As a starting point, the American Bar Association offers this helpful resource which identifies state variations from the ABA Model Rules:
You can also find a link to the applicable rules by selecting your state from this menu:
State by State Ethics Rules and Resources
Key Cases and Opinions re Attorney Advertising
Public Citizen, Inc. et al. v. Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, et al.: The 5 Circuit struck down several restrictions on attorney advertising, including limitations on factual statements re past results and restrictions on the use of nicknames, mottos or “monikers”. The court upheld prohibitions on promising favorable results.
Alexander v. Cahill: The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in large part upholds a district court decision striking down most of the new advertising and solicitation restrictions which were to take effect in New York in February of 2007 as violating the 1st Amendment. The United States Supreme Court later declined to review the case.
Key Historical Cases
Bates v. The State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977): The seminal U.S. Supreme Court case holding that the First Amendment prohibited an outright ban on attorney advertising; this is also the case in which Justice Blackmun declared the belief that lawyers were somehow “above” trade an anachronism.
Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Services Commission of New York, 447 U.S. 557 (1980): Establishes a four-part test for determining whether restrictions on commercial speech comport with the 1st Amendment.
Peel v. Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, 496 U.S. 91, 108 (1990): Striking down disciplinary action against attorney for listing truthful non-misleading information on certification on letterhead, and rejecting a claim that certain speech was potentially misleading for lack of empirical evidence.
Lynch v. Alabama, 655 So.2d 982 (Ala.1995) : The Supreme Court of Alabama held that R.W. Lynch, a California advertising agency specializing in attorney advertising, did not operate a lawyer referral service when it produced its “Injury Helpline” television marketing program.
On July 15, 2011 the Ethics Committee at the North Carolina State Bar adopted Formal Ethics Opinion 10, Lawyer Advertising on Deal of the Day or Group Coupon Website, ruling that attorneys can advertise on a website that offers daily discounts to consumers where the website company’s compensation is a percentage of the amount paid to the lawyer if certain disclosures are made and certain conditions are satisfied.