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Louisiana’s Lawyer Advertising Rules Violate Free Speech, Prevent Consumers From Receiving Information on Their Legal Rights

Sept. 23, 2008

Louisiana’s Lawyer Advertising Rules Violate Free Speech, Prevent Consumers From Receiving Information on Their Legal Rights

Restrictions Based on Rules Declared Unconstitutional in New York

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Louisiana Supreme Court’s new rules governing lawyer advertising violate free speech and impose vague and unfair restrictions on how lawyers can communicate with consumers, according to a suit filed today in federal court by Public Citizen and two Louisiana attorneys.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, argues that court’s advertising rules violate the First Amendment and prevent lawyers from providing the public with factual, important information about their services. The suit also argues the advertising restrictions were adopted with little research and were based almost verbatim on rules that Public Citizen either successfully challenged as unconstitutional in New York or that Public Citizen is currently challenging in Florida.

Louisiana’s rules, which go into effect Dec. 1, would be among the most restrictive in the country, prohibiting slogans, descriptions of quality, testimonials, actor portrayals of clients, well-known spokespersons and other common advertising techniques.

“Lawyers should be allowed to advertise truthfully and consumers should be allowed to consider important information such as client testimonials and a lawyer’s past success,” Public Citizen attorney Greg Beck said. “The Louisiana Supreme Court has provided no evidence to support the need for new restrictions, which seem to be driven by hostility toward lawyers who assist injured consumers.”

Louisiana’s restrictions will virtually prohibit lawyers from creating interesting and effective advertising that complies with the rules, Beck said.

Joining Public Citizen in the suit is New Orleans lawyer Morris Bart and Lafayette lawyer William Gee III. The suit against the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board (LADB), which would enforce the restrictions, argues that the new rules unfairly restrict their First Amendment rights to commercial speech. New Orleans attorneys Diane S. Ciolino and Terry B. Loup are representing the plaintiffs in addition to Beck.

Louisiana’s new rules would prohibit ads that “promise results,” a vague restriction that will lead to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. An existing rule against false, misleading and deceptive advertising is sufficient to protect consumers, the suit says.

Public Citizen’s suit asks the court to declare the rules unconstitutional and to permanently enjoin the LABD from enforcing the rules.

After Public Citizen challenged the New York rules, a federal judge last year declared them unconstitutional. That case is on appeal. A similar constitutional challenge by Public Citizen is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

READ the suit.