Ah Hamlet, the famous line, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” came to mind last in the context of lawyers, lawyer advertising, and the Rules of Ethics. As many people know, the majority of our firm’s clients are lawyers and law firms, who trust us to provide ethical guidance, as well as representation before the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. I also write and lecture about ethics for various publications legal. One of my most recent ethics columns, in The Philadelphia Lawyer, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s award-winning magazine, discussed changes to the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct relating to attorney advertising. My opinion was that because no attorney has ever been disciplined for violating the advertising rules, changing them (and making them far weaker in my opinion) would be a meaningless gesture.
Click here to read my column. You can come to your own conclusion.
One lawyer read the column and accused me of “using a professional periodical to serve [my] own agenda. It also seems like an attempt to at best criticize our Firm/your competitors, and at worst defame them for being unethical and violating the rules of professional responsibility.”
My agenda, as I responded, is “that we should have Rules that are enforced, enforceable, and complied with.” Lots of Rules apply to lawyers; in fact everything we do involves Rules. Yet it remains my belief that the advertising Rules aren’t enforced. As my column noted, “Examination of the published disciplinary decisions on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court website confirms the absence of any public discipline for advertising rules violations.” In other words, no lawyers have ever been publicly disciplined for violating the Pennsylvania advertising Rules.
I then asked a few people if they thought my article was directed at any firm, any practice area, or any identifiable group other than lawyers whose advertisements appear to be contrary to the Rules. They thought my column was law firm neutral, and merely highlighted the opinion I have espoused for years.
Thus, as one person noted, the lawyer doth protest too much.
Oh, and ironically, one law firm I represent, for which I provide guidance about advertising content, including TV and radio, called for advice shortly after I heard from the other lawyer. They weren’t offended by my column.
I guess, again referring to Hamlet, it depends on whose petard is being hoisted.