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New York legal blog restrictions a fraud on consumers

September 15, 2006

Greg Beck, at Public Citizen’s new Consumer Law and Public Policy Blog, posts that New York’s proposed restrictions on lawyer advertisements, including blogs, hurt consumers. The real reason for the restrictions is to keep legal work in the hands of the lawyers who have it now and away from lawyers who may effectively introduce their services to consumers.

In the name of protecting consumers from false and misleading lawyer advertising, New York is proposing draconian new restrictions on Internet communications and other forms of attorney advertising that will directly impact attorneys who maintain blogs or websites in New York, or in many cases who simply send an email into the state.  Instead of protecting consumers, however, the proposed rules will burden completely truthful and non-misleading communication by attorneys, and will serve no purpose other than to deprive consumers of useful information about their legal rights, protect established law firms from competition, and render many aspects of the Internet largely unusable for New York attorneys.

I agree wholeheartedly with Greg’s points:

  • New York’s proposed amendments appear to be intended less to prevent consumer misunderstanding than to prohibit the most effective forms of lawyer advertising.
  • New law firm competitors, who depend on advertising to make their message heard, are locked out of the market.  With less competition, prices go up and consumers suffer.
  • Gives an unfair advantage to established market participants that find customers primarily through referrals and word of mouth.
  • The burdens imposed on attorneys under these rules would be overwhelming and unworkable, and would totally undermine the potential of the Internet as a medium for cheap and efficient means of mass communication.
  • Consumer advocates should be concerned when states restrict truthful and non-misleading advertisements that prevent consumers from receiving useful information about pricing and product or service alternatives. 
  • State courts and bar associations for decades have used attorney codes of ethics to restrict competition by limiting the kinds of truthful information that lawyers can communicate to potential clients.

Thankfully, as Greg points out, we do have free speech in this country to protect truthful advertising. As the Supreme Court recognized in the landmark case Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Consumer Council, a ‘consumer’s interest in the free flow of commercial information . . . may be as keen, if not keener by far, than his interest in the day’s most urgent political debate.’ 

Stop the foolishness, submit a comment on the restrictions to the New York State Court System by the November 15 deadline.