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New Lawyer Advertising Rules in New YorkWould Violate Free Speech and Hamper Legal Web Pages and Blogging

Nov. 15, 2006

New Lawyer Advertising Rules in New YorkWould Violate Free Speech and Hamper Legal Web Pages and Blogging

Public Citizen, ACLU and NYCLU Ask for Proposed Rules to Be Withdrawn

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Proposed amendments to rules governing lawyer advertising in New York would violate free speech and impose unprecedented restrictions on lawyers’ Internet communications, according to comments filed today with the state’s court administration office by Public Citizen, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

The amendments are part of a revision of the rules on advertising contained in New York’s Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers. The code is designed to protect consumers by prohibiting false and misleading lawyer advertisements. But the three groups have urged withdrawal of the amendments, contending that their broad language unconstitutionally prohibits truthful communication of information about legal services to New York consumers – regardless of whether the communication is commercial or noncommercial.

“The right to engage in truthful legal advertising is important because it not only encourages beneficial competition in the marketplace for legal services but can also educate consumers about their rights, inform them when they may have a legal claim and enhance their access to the legal system,” said Greg Beck, an attorney for Public Citizen Litigation Group.

The new rules would also extend to all forms of communication on the Internet, including Web sites, e-mail, instant messaging and blogging. They would impose burdensome reporting and record-keeping requirements on Internet speech that would be effectively impossible to comply with. Each time a Web page is modified, the rules would require the page to be printed and kept on file for a period of at least a year. An additional printed copy of the Web site would also have to be sent to the state attorney disciplinary committee. Furthermore, the rules would require lawyers to print the words “Attorney Advertisement” in large letters on their Web sites and blogs, even for those without commercial content.

“A literal reading of these rules would classify legal blogs and magazine articles as lawyer advertisements,” said Beck. “Even if these changes are not enforced, they would have a chilling effect on Internet free speech as lawyers decide not to risk running afoul of the rules and facing disciplinary proceedings.”

The proposed rules were drafted June 15 by the Administrative Board of Courts, which is composed of the chief justice of New York’s Court of Appeals and the presiding judges of the state’s four appellate divisions. The rules are set to go in effect on January 15, 2007.

To read the groups’ comments on the proposed rules, click here.

To read Public Citizen’s Consumer Law & Policy Blog on this issue, click here.