Two days after ruling that lawyers have a right to advertise the availability and prices of "routine" legal services, the U.S. Supreme Court directed a lower court yesterday to reconsider its decision on the right of consumer groups in Virginia to publish a directory of lawyers' services and qualifications.
The consumer groups had sought the right to list in a directory information about where lawyers went to school, whether they had published in a legal journal, and how much they charge for specific services.
A three-judge court in Richmond ruled on Dec. 17 that the Consumers Union and the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council had a constitutional right to publish the directory, but they could not publish the fees lawyers charge.
The Consumers Union appealed the decision in the hope of including in the directory a statement of fees, and the Virginia State Bar appealed, hoping to block publication of the directory.
The directory, intended to rovide information on lawyers in Arlington County, was a pilot project of the Consurmers Union, which is involvee in similar litigation in California.
The District of Columbia Bar has already compiled a directory of lawyers indexed by field of practice, the language the attorney is fluent in, and the geographic location of the office.
Fewer than half of those listed in the D.C. directory give information about the rates they charge.
The Supreme Court's June 27 decision recognizing First Amendment right of lawyers to publish advertisements on the availability and prices of "routine" legal services is expected to bolster the Consumers Union stand, said Ellen Broadman, an attorney for the organization.
"We're talking about the consumer's right to know, and (the Supreme Court decision) was talking about the attorney's right to speak," Broadman said.
But the real questions raised in the Consumers Union case - the publication of hourly fees and the lawyers' qualifications - have not yet been ad-dressed by the Supreme Court, said Stuart Dunn, deputy attorney general of Virginia, who is representing the Virginia Bar.
"At least one battlefield is going to be whether fees are 'routine'," Dunn said referring to the Supreme Court case.