Legal advertising is the advertisement of legal services provided by a lawyer or a law firm to attract potential clients. Legal advertising can take various forms of media including printing, mailing, television and online advertising. Legal advertising is regulated by state bar associations, which often have different rules for defining advertising and restricting the content of legal advertisement. Most state bar associations fashion their rules of legal advertising after the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which is not binding for lawyers but highly persuasive to state bar associations.
Legal advertising was prohibited by most states in the 1970s until the Supreme Court held in John R. Bates and Van O’Steen v. State Bar of Arizona in 1977 that legal advertising is commercial speech and thus is accorded the First Amendment protection. State bar associations cannot impose blanket suppression on legal advertising although they can restrict misleading or false advertisement.
In 1988, the Supreme Court held in Shapero v. Kentucky Bar Association that direct mail solicitation could not be totally prohibited by the State, as long as such advertisements were truthful and nondeceptive.
Lawyers who violate legal advertising rules will face disbarment by state bar associations. They could also endure judicial proceedings for engaging in false or misleading legal advertisement.
[Last updated in August of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]