Consumer groups told it to the judges yesterday. They let the D.C. Court of Appeals know they favor regulations that would make it easy for lawyers to advertise as a way to cut attorney fees and inform the public about available legal services.
It was the first time the court has allowed the public to comment on the rules it makes that govern the conduct of lawyers who do business in Washington.
Representatives of consumer groups unanimously supported the recommendations on lawyer advertising of the D.C. Bar Association, which would be the most liberial in the nation. They go beyond allowing advertising in newspapers, magazines radio and television to permitting lawyers to solicit clients face-to-face as long as they do not make false or misleading statements, don't try to pressure potential clients, and don't violate their privacy.
In effect, the D.C. Bar recommendation would allow any form of lawyer advertising as long as it not false or misleading.
The bar's recommendations, framed by lawyers, was backed at yesterday's hearing by its Citizen Advisory Board; a nonlawyer member of its board of governors; a leader of the Gray Panthers, an organization that represents the rights of the elderly; and the National Resource Center for Consumers of Legal Services.
"I feel that an open policy of lawyer advertising will increase the client volume to the lawyer and drive prices down," said John L. Gibson, a former community organizer who is a member of the bar's board although he isn't a lawyer.
The Rev. Raymond B. Kemp, head of the bar's Citizen Advisory Committee, said the limited lawyer advertising now going on has already driven down the price of some legal services here, For example, he said, simple divorces cost $350 to $500 five years ago; now they are being advertised at fees of $125 and $150.
"Our interest is not the interest of the lawyers but the interest of the consumer - the wide, unmet need for legal services . . . which exists because of ignorance of their availability and fear of their cost," Robert Weinberg, president of the D.C. Bar, said.
The D.C. Bar made its liberal recommendations even before the U.S. Supreme Court last June overturned rules against lawyer advertising.
The D.C. Bar proposal was also supported by the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division, which has criticized recommendations of the American Bar Association as being too restrictive and violating antitrust laws.
Martha Schneider, appearing on behalf of the federal government, called the D.C. Bar's recommendations "excellent . . . simple and workable," and said they should increase public awareness and help lower the cost of legal services.
But John P. Arness, president of the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, opposed the recommendations as "a rule which in effect would be no rule . . . a copout."
The D.C. Bar is an arm of the court to which all lawyers in the city must belong. The Bar Association is a voluntary group of Washington lawyers.
The Bar Association recommended for restrictive regulation for lawyer advertising than the D.C. Bar. The Bar Association proposal would not allow television advertising. It would limit the information a lawyer could include in an ad and would rehtrict the advertising fees.
Without these restrictions, Arness said, the public could be mislead by lawyer advertising.
But David Scrull, a lawyer who a dvertises, said Maryland's liberal advertising rules have not brought forth the rash of problems that many members of the organized bar predicted things such as former Baltimore Orioles star Brooks Robinson appearing on TV endorsing a lawyer. Instead, Scull characterized lawyer advertising in Maryland as "timid."
Chief Judge Theordore R. Newman Jr. said if the Court of Appeals doesn't decide on advertising rules by early next month, nothing will be done until the fall because of vacations of the judges.