Please excuse the length of this first blog but I want to let you know my thoughts on the issue. The other articles will be much shorter!
In 1966, I was admitted to the practice of law and took an oath before the Tennessee Supreme Court to uphold the constitutions of the United States and the State of Tennessee and to seek justice for the citizens of Tennessee.
The open solicitation of primarily (but not only) personal injury cases such as takes place today would have gotten a lawyer disciplined and possibly disbarred for life prior to 1977.
In that year the United States Supreme Court rendered the 5-4 decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona which allowed attorneys to advertise to the public under the “right to know” principle on the availability of lawyers to handle simple legal matters such as “uncontested divorces, uncontested adoptions, simple personal bankruptcies, and changes of name.”
Justice Blackmun, writing for the 5-4 majority erroneously believed that the legal and judicial professions would self-regulate any abuses of “false, deceptive, and misleading statements or which concerned transactions which are themselves illegal.”
Unfortunately, that has not been the case. While Justice Blackmun may have had noble goals in aspiring to make the legal system more accessible to the general public, he totally forgot to anticipate the creative talents of the advertising community or of a small minority of attorneys, who would not want to take time though the standard methods of acquiring a good reputation and practice by hard work, legitimate results, and a loyal client base. Instead the vocal minority in their quick chase for monetary gain turned to ad agencies and public relations firms to develop advertising programs that appealed to the public’s susceptibility to commercial advertising.
Hamilton County and the State of Tennessee was slow in adopting the new freedom to advertise except for a few lawyers such as Bart Durham in Nashville, Ward Welchel in Knoxville and John Wolfe in Chattanooga who started a financial bonanza for the telephone companies by placing a large ad in the Yellow Pages. This immediately resulted in a panic by personal injury lawyers attempting to gain an advantage by purchasing the biggest ads on the front, middle, and back pages of the telephone book. Whether this led to better legal services for the public or just an economic bonanza for the owners of the ad agencies, telephone company, and a few lawyers is a matter of personal interpretation.
The first real professional advertising campaign was started by attorney John Mc Mahan who was a partner at the Leitner, Warner & Williams firm and was an experienced and capable insurance defense trial attorney.
He employed the services of radio talk show host Jeff Styles, an ad agency moonlighter, and came up with the creative name of “The Insider” touting John’s years of representing insurance companies and knowing how they operated. John could and would try cases and was highly successful before unfortunately contracting a medical condition and having to retire from the practice of law.
The flood gates on legal advertising did not gush open but a few ambitious attorneys started advertising ads on local cable television, radio, websites, billboards, and all forms of social media.
The panic amongst lawyers continues today to the glee of insurance companies, insurance defense attorneys, ad agencies, newspapers, magazines, billboard companies, etc. The cost of running the legal system to protect the public’s “right to know,” as originally allowed in 1977, has become a yearly billion dollar industry.
In the coming months, I will address many of the aspects of the legal advertising market and tactics used by some of the law firms spending extravagant sums of money, for a practice which I believe doesn’t contribute to the image of trial lawyers or inure to the benefit of the injured and deceased to get the best possible resolution of their cases by trial or settlement.
In my opinion the rights of citizens to get full justice for a legal wrong under the “Open Courts Clause” in the Tennessee Constitution and the “Due Process Clause” of the United State Constitution have been diminished under social media lawyer advertising.
Medical malpractice and worker’s compensation restrictions and caps on damages are just a few of the subjects reduced by the Tennessee General Assembly and courts that have involved the diminishing of our citizens’ rights to obtain justice. The enactment of much of that repressive legislation can be directly linked to negative campaigns by our opponents to attack “the greedy trial lawyers.”
I do not expect to influence the minority few who engage in the high dollar legal advertising game of roulette but intend to remind the public that there are 1,200-1,500 qualified attorneys in the southeast Tennessee and northwest Georgia areas that are equally, or more qualified to handle cases in the areas of personal injury, bankruptcy, social security, divorce, and criminal law.
Hopefully this blog will assist the public to make an informed decision as to their choice of a law firm to represent them in any legal matter rather than glitzy ads and jingles claiming “expertise” in a particular area of the law.
The social media advertisers are the “Best” at promoting themselves. They may not be the “Best” to represent you in court against tough defense lawyers and insurance companies.
This does not mean that all attorneys who advertise engage in the deceptive or exaggerated touting of their talents but the blog hopefully will serve as a reminder for the potential clients to talk to more than one or two law firms before making the important decision as to who will represent you.
I expect that I will be attacked for creating this blog. Charges of jealousy, senility, hypocrisy, and efforts to get more business will be thrown at me by either the lawyers who want to take me on publicly or by straw persons acting on their behalf.
I am 76 years old and have been through many battles before. I am both loved and hated by the citizens of this area and have been fortunate to have a few friends and supporters who may (or may not) agree with me on this issue.
Let the discussions begin!