One by one various occupations are falling victim to the market competion mania that is especially strong among us right now. Pharmacists are being compelled to post the prices of their mahchandise, and stockbrokers have been forbidden to rig prices of their dubious services. The consumerists and young troublemakers are congratulating themselves on a series of court and bar decissions which opens up that once-learned but now tawdry profession to advertising.
The discomfiture of old-line law firms is as amusing as the thoughtless naivete of the lawyers who have forced the advertising issue to a conclusion. The underlying assumption that customers may benefit from competition among lawyers can have merit, but that advertising will help has none. Advertising has never solved any serious problem before so why should we think it will clear up any in the legal profession?
One of the most serious problems for a customer shopping around for a lawyer is a danger of falling into the hands of an incompetent. As with the same stripe of doctor, by the time you find out your legal beagle is ignorant or negligent, you are ruined. Moreover, it is impossible to make your lawyer pay for his forgetting to file that key document with clerk of court before the dealine which lost you your claim. Lawyers sue doctors for negligence; lawyers do not sue other lawyers for negligence.
Will it help us in finding an attorney who knows his job to see a gray-haired, gray-suited chap materialize on our TV screens and tells us, "My name is Thaxter van Baxter, senior partner at Snob & Sniff, attoneys-at-law. All the members of our firm are Yale, Harvard or Princeton graduates, with the exception of one odd-ball from University of Missouri, but he onlys handles our charity cases. We wear silk rep ties, shun padding in the shoulders of our three-button suit jackets and belong to the better clubs. If you confuse leather, wainscoting and Anglo-Saxon inhibition with honesty and ability, we're your lawyers." No, the end result of this reform is that now, in adition to crooked lawyers, we're also got to cope with their dishonest advertising.
The possibilities for entertaining interludes on television are almost endless. Can't you see Mr. Hardsell, the character who pitches those $5.98 send-no-money-now plastic choppers, doing a legal pitch, 'There's no such thing as a hopeless case at the law firm of Stall& Crawl. We don't care if 16 cops will testify they saw you commit rape at high noon on the steps of the United States Capitol. You pay us, we'll keep you out of jail. Remember our motto. Justice delayed is a dab guy saved."
It's no accident that advertising is coming to law exactly when lawyers have become more numerous than maggots in the belly of a dead cat. It's no more coincidental than the education lobby's sudden public anguish for handicapped children at a time when teacher layoffs are growing as the birthrate and pupil enrollment drops.
The layer advocates of advertising may be only semi-aware of their own motivations. The educationalists doubtless believe it's the unfortunate handicapped children, not the jobs which motivate them. Nevertheless the arguments advanced for lawyer advertising give the game away. It's always pointed out that the rich can have lawyers and the poor have lawyers supplied for them, but middle-class people can't afford them. By competition through advertising the price of legal services is to come down within the reach of every American family.
We've seen this before with the advertising of a million products. The first thing you do is convince people they need a product which they never needed before. Next you mass-produce a sloppy facsimile thereof to meet this unneeded need, and you do it under the banner of reform and consumer rights. See ya in court, fella.