YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | When did lawyers get the right to advertise?

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I want to discuss how marketing has evolved in my profession since 1977, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that lawyer advertising was commercial speech entitled to protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

I am the managing partner of a law firm, which means I am a businessman, which means I am an advertiser.

I understand that some people are appalled and offended by the lawyers who market their services, many of whom refer to personal injury lawyers as “ambulance hunters”.

This is ironic for two reasons: first, because the term was coined back when lawyers were forced to contact potential clients and their families directly because the bar was banned from advertising and, second, because the derogatory is used regularly by people who run or work for gigantic insurance companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on marketing.

Talk about hypocrites. Guess it’s OK for Allstate to spend $ 500 million a year convincing accident victims that they’re in good hands, but I’m a ghoul for spending less than 0.00002 to tell them that the company uses these hands to do their pockets.

Go figure it out.

But I digress. What I really want to discuss in this column is how marketing has evolved in my profession since 1977, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that lawyer advertising was commercial speech entitled to a claim. protection under the first and fourteenth amendments.

Immediately after the announcement of the Bates v. Arizona law firms have started using all available advertising media to contact their clients, including television, radio, billboards, direct mail, and the yellow pages. For readers too young to remember, the Yellow Pages was the business directory section of what’s known as a phone book – a thick printed directory that listed all phone numbers and addresses. a community.

Think of it as a print version of Google, but much harder to use.

Regardless, since the phone book was the medium most people used to obtain business phone numbers, there was competition for the highly visible and easily accessible parts of the phone book – especially the ones. blankets – was fierce. Lawyers often paid tens of thousands of dollars for coveted seats, which is why every Yellow Pages representative at the time drove a Porsche, Cadillac or Corvette.

Today, the Yellow Pages have been replaced by Google, Yahoo, Bing and YouTube. The bidding wars for frequently searched keywords like “accident lawyer” are just as fierce as the battles that have raged for a prime place in the phone book with one major difference: Competitors cheat by doing things like buying the names of other law firms.

Here’s how it works: Someone who has been injured wants to contact my business. They are looking for Betras, Kopp & Harshman. The result comes back in a millisecond, but the phone number and website that show up belong to the law firm paying the most for our name that day. So instead of calling us, the potential customer calls one of our competitors.

I think the practice is dishonest. The Ohio Supreme Court agrees and recently issued an opinion that using the name of another firm to drive traffic to a law firm’s own site “may constitute conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deception or misrepresentation ”, and is an act“… designed to deceive an Internet user. . ”

I applaud the court’s decision. Now if we could just get the judges to force Nationwide to admit that they are not on our side …

Lawyer David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., leads the firm’s non-contentious activities and practices criminal defense law in state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Do you have a legal question you would like to answer here? Send it to [email protected]


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