ARNOLD AND PORTER - it's like a doctor's prescription, containing not one, but a combination of politically proven ingredients . . . We are Hogan and Hartson, doing what we do best . . . For a writ, instead of a judgment, try Covington and Burling . . . Call Clark Clifford - it's, oh, so good to hear him smile.
Is this really what we can expect to hear from Washington's legal establishment, now that the Supreme Court has decided that lawyers have a right to do at least some advertising? Not from that crowd, we remain confident, even if the High Court's ruling had provided them that much license to hawk their wares - which it did not. Nevertheless, theirs is a brave new world now, complete with the possibility of public competition on prices. Remember that until quite recently the profession not only regarded advertising - which is to say, out-in-the-open competitive bidding for public favor - to be unethical but furthermore threatened to punish any member who cared undercut one of the world's most congenial price-fixing arrangements.
The Court, of course, has not removed all restrictions on advertising by lawyers and, presumably, other professionals. Its decision specifically approved newspaper ads that list the services available and quote prices for routine ones such as uncontested divorces and name changes. While the decision is bound to be expanded, at least to permit ads in other media, the Court is not about to let lawyers get into the slogan and jingle business. The Justices pointed out that deceptive advertising can be barred and they noted, in this respect, that "claims as to the quality of services . . . are not susceptible to measurement or verification."
Nobody really knows what this decision will do to the practice of law. Those who don't like it think ads will mislead the public on the costs of legal services and may lead people to choose lawyers on the basis of cost rather than competence. They also think it places an enormous burden on the courts to police the truthfulness of the ads. Proponents see it as making possible the delivery of more legal services to more people at lower cost, by both informing the public and instituting competition.
For our part, we have always thought it peculiar that lawyers discussed prices as soon as clients were in their offices but were barred from advertising them before the clients got there. And we have been bothered by the fact that lawyers sometimes run for public office not so much to win as to get the exposure and attention that comes from having their names brought conspicuously before the public. We don't expect to see much advertising by lawyers, but we think the Court was correct in restoring to them a right to hang out an advertising shingle bearing their names and at least a basic price list. It is a right they had up until less than 100 years ago, when lawyering began to become a closed shop and - not entirely coincidentally - a very profitable business.