Targeting priests is a new low in lawyer advertising (commentary)

Staten Island Advance

February 27, 2019

By Daniel Leddy

On June 27, 1977, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court sent shockwaves through the legal profession by holding that the First Amendment’s free speech clause protects the right of lawyers to advertise their services. The ruling in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona overturned the discipline meted out to two young lawyers for placing a straightforward, dignified advertisement in the Arizona Republic informing readers of the basic legal services performed at their “clinic” and the fee for each.

Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Harry Blackmun asserted that lawyer advertising would further reliable decision-making, and discounted fears that some lawyers would use advertising gimmicks to deceive the public. In contrast, Justice Lewis Powell’s strongly worded dissent predicted that the decision would weaken the ability of the states to regulate attorney conduct, and “effect profound changes in the practice of law, viewed for centuries as a learned profession.”

Powell’s concerns were prophetic. For in the aftermath of the Bates decision, the legal profession has been denigrated by absurdities such as lawyers declaring themselves to be “tough and mean;” pronouncing themselves to be “pit bulls,” proclaiming their willingness to do “whatever it takes to win;” claiming to represent space aliens; emerging from the ocean bearing spear guns because so many other lawyers are “sharks,” and even sending bouquets of flowers to funeral homes where victims of legally actionable tragedies were being waked.

Last Tuesday, attorney Jeff Anderson moved offensive attorney advertising from the disgraceful to the despicable with a press release announcing “the names of more than 100 perpetrators accused of sexual misconduct in the Archdiocese of New York.”

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