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Court Hears Challenges to Louisiana Lawyer Advertising Rules

Yesterday, a federal district court in Louisiana held oral argument on First Amendment challenges to Louisiana's proposed advertising rules filed by a group of attorneys, reports The Associated Press. If the article's summary of oral argument is any indication, the state seems poised to lose this case.

Consider this colloquy between U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman and one of the lawyers challenging the rules:

Morris Bart's New Orleans-based firm has spent millions of dollars on television ads featuring his trademark "one call, that's all" motto.

"'One call, that's all' is arguably prohibited by the rules," Garner [lawyer for Bart] said.

"How is that misleading?" Feldman asked.

"It's not," Garner replied.

Likewise, one of the state's strongest arguments seems to be that the lawsuit is premature, because the rules haven't yet taken effect and thus, the lawyers can't prove harm. Phillip Wittmann, lawyer for the disciplinary board told the court "We don't have a specific, concrete example of what [the petitioners] are complaining about."

Public Citizen, one of the groups that succeeded in overturning many of New York's advertising regulations, is also participating in the suit. In a motion for summary judgment, Public Citizen argued that Louisiana's rules mirrored many of the New York rules which had successfully been challenged. And it also pointed out the confusion created by similarly vague rules in Florida. For example, in Florida:

"People make mistakes, I help fix them” improperly promises results, but that “People make mistakes, I help them” is permissible; the statement “We’ll help you get a positive perspective on your case and get your defense off on the right foot quickly” promises results, but “If an accident has put your dreams on hold we are here to help you get back on track” is permissible; the phrase “[Y]our lawyer’s knowledge of the law and talents in the courtroom can mean the difference between a criminal conviction and your freedom” promises results, but “The lawyer you choose can help make the difference between a substantial award and a meager settlement” is permissible; and the statement “Hiring an attorney experienced in DUI law is an efficient and effective way to ensure that all possible measures are taken to protect your legal rights” promises results, but “Hiring an attorney experienced in DUI law is an efficient and effective way to protect your legal rights” is permissible.

Scott Wolfe of Wolfe Law Group, another lawyer challenging the suit (his firm's filings are available on JD Supra), made the point that compliance with Louisiana's proposed rules could be cost-prohibitive and further, that the rules do not reflect the reality of the Internet. Wolfe explained that a Google ad campaign that had cost him about $160 would have cost an additional $2,900 to get all 17 variations of the ad reviewed by a bar committee.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 30, 2009 at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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