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New York’s Rules on Lawyer Advertising Are Unconstitutional, Appeals Court Rules

March 12, 2010

New York’s Rules on Lawyer Advertising Are Unconstitutional, Appeals Court Rules

Public Citizen Prevails in Arguing That Rules Unfairly Restrict Free Speech

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rules governing lawyer advertising in New York that were passed in February 2007 cannot be enforced because they violate the First Amendment right to free speech, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled today.

The appeals court upheld almost all of a lower court’s 2007 ruling in a lawsuit filed by Public Citizen, New York lawyer James Alexander and his firm, Alexander & Catalano.

Public Citizen had argued that the rules were overly broad and overly restrictive, and went well beyond what the government could justify as needed to prevent deceptive and misleading advertising. Public Citizen explained in its papers that the rules unconstitutionally prohibited truthful communication of information about legal services to New York consumers.

In July 2007, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York ruled in favor of Public Citizen’s request for an injunction against many of the new rules. Alexander and his law firm had been forced to change its advertisements to comply with the more restrictive rules.

“The appellate court recognized correctly that the New York rules went too far in restricting legal free speech,” said Greg Beck, an attorney for Public Citizen who litigated the case. “This ruling is a victory for New York consumers who will now have access to more information about their rights and available legal services.”
The guidelines were part of a revision of the rules contained in New York’s Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers, which is designed to protect consumers by prohibiting false and misleading lawyer advertisements. 
Public Citizen is challenging similar rules in Florida and Louisiana on behalf of lawyers and consumers in those states.

To read the documents in this case, go to https://www.citizen.org/our-work/litigation/cases/alexander-v-cahill