On a chilly evening in November of last year, I was sitting aside a fireplace in Seattle, Washington, and reading literature from the Louisiana State Bar Association explaining its new lawyer advertising regulations. It got me riled.
It was clear that the Louisiana bar wanted to regulate personal injury advertising, but the animosity it harbored for this style of advertising had blinded its duty to its membership…and to me. Particularly, my complaint was with it’s regulation of speech by attorneys on the Internet.
Hoping to prevent personal injury attorneys from posting “disgraceful” ads online, the bar passed a far-reaching rule that restricted all attorney communication on the net. The regs were a bit complex, but here is a summary: If you’re an attorney, and you say something online, it’s regulated.
The rule was so out-of-this-world unconstitutional, I can hardly believe the bar spent its entrusted funds to fight it.
I suppose there are two reasons it did so: (1) It was blinded by its disdain of personal injury ads; and (2) It was clueless about how the Internet actually worked.
After a nine-month constitutional battle, the Louisiana Eastern District Court agreed with our position, and the state was enjoined from enforcing the component of its rules regulating attorney speech online.
In retrospect, the entire experience was fun. There I was, less than 4 years out of law school, as a lone plaintiff against the Louisiana State Bar Association. Standing before the district court judge, I could barely remember how I stumbled into the situation.
The experience was eye-opening, too. A small faction within the powers-that-be in the Louisiana bar single-handily decided to over-regulate attorneys, and it took a lot of work (and unfortunately, thousands of dollars) to stop it. Shouldn’t the bar association be more responsible to its membership? I found the bar surprisingly stubborn about its position, even though it had no support.
Word is that the bar will go back to the drawing board on Internet regulations. Someone asked me a few months back what would be a fair regulation of attorney communications online. My answer was that bar associations should regulate in response to an actual problem, and not because because they’re interested in having a regulation. If they can’t identify a problem…how are they going to successfully regulate the non-existent problem?
As the bar prepares to take a second shot at Internet regulation, I hope they do their homework. They owe it to their membership, and to me.
I kept a blog about the progress of this suit, which you can read at http://www.protectspeech.com. You can also check our some of the press we got here:
Forbes Magazine: Lawyers Say Limits on their ads unconstitutional
Lawyers USA: Judge Rules on Louisiana Advertising Rules
ABA Journal: Judge Strikes Down Louisiana Ad Restrictions on Lawyer Internet Ads
JDScoop: Explaining the Court Decision and Order