Rochester Attorney Tom SmithDespite a federal court recently finding New York’s new legal advertising rules unconstitutional, Rochester Attorney Tom Smith urges lawyers to take the high road in advertising.

In his guest column in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Monroe County Bar President explains that existing ethics rules do limit lawyer ads. ‘…[L]awyers must still honor the longstanding ethical rule that prohibits any advertisements that are ‘false, deceptive or misleading.”

And though lawyers are free to use, as Smith says ‘…nicknames, mottos or trade names, to employ attention-getting techniques such as Internet pop-up ads, client testimonials, hyperbole and colorful gimmicks to entice potential clients, consumers of legal services can simply say, ‘…[N]o thanks,” and instead contact their family lawyer, their friends, co-workers — or call the Lawyer Referral Service, a community service of the MCBA — for a referral to a respected, professional lawyer to represent their interests.’

I am as big a believer as anyone that the First Amendment protects attorney advertising. But tasteless lawyer ads only add to the awful image of our profession. This hurts the public and us.

As we lose the respect of the public, consumers trust lawyers even less. When in need of a lawyer to protect their rights, people contact lawyers only as a last resort. They’ll turn to a friend, relative, co-worker, or stranger on the net for advice first. Why? They don’t trust us.

We’re also losing younger people seeking careers that allow them to make the world a better place. I aspired to be a lawyer and practiced for 17 years because the law was a noble and honorable profession. 40 plus years ago I believed growing up to be a lawyer would allow me to change things for the better. Still do believe that by the way.

But when grade school kids name as the most lawyer some huckster on local TV or a billboard, as opposed to Abraham Lincoln or Robert Kennedy, we’re all losing something.

Follow Smith’s advice. We don’t need rules to take the high road on this one.