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The History of Attorney Advertising

The legal profession’s restrictions on how attorneys can market themselves have long been established. These restrictions and regulations have ranged from general advertisement to even solicitation of business and services in personal scenarios. The reason for these rules and regulations stem from two themes: Making sure that the image of the legal profession is protected and unblemished and cutting down on the possibility of those who are trained in the art of persuasion to be able to influence an individual on their choice of counsel.

The rules and regulations surrounding attorney advertising can be traced back to etiquette in England during the 1800s. In this time, they referred to themselves as “esquires”, and these esquires viewed themselves as part of a public calling. This was a view contrary to the one of being part of a commercial profession. Despite time moving forward, and circumstances changing during this modernization of the legal profession, this viewpoint heavily influenced the American bar even in the 20th century.

In most states, it was considered illegal for attorneys to advertise themselves up until the late 1970s. This was not due to a simple gentleman’s agreement or tradition of not seak out publicity – it was just related to the professional rules of conduct that withheld practitioners of law from being able to engage in nearly any kind of commercial publicity. No radio spots, no late-night TV advertisements, no ads placed in the yellow pages, nothing.

But this all changed in 1977 in the case of Bates Vs. Arizona that made its way to the Supreme Court. This was centered around Arizona’s ban on allowing attorneys to advertise themselves and their services. The side of Bates argued that not being able to do this was in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Not only this but that blocking consumers from being able to see which counselors were available made it harder for them to be able to make an informed decision regarding the professional individual whom they would like to represent them in the courtroom. They made valid points.

While the ability to advertise is not completely banned in the age we live in, there are still rules in place regarding how an attorney can present themselves. However, those in need of a lawyer are far more equipped with what they need to be able to find the right attorney for their case than ever before.