A Houston lawyer sponsored part of the TV soap opera "Divorce Court" to deliver the message that he takes divorce cases. A Chicago lawyer offers "free legal advice" in a full-page ad in a black-oriented newspaper here. The Los Angeles Times has run full pages of attorney advertisements, and scattered ads by lawyers are appearing in Washington newspapers.
Increasingly, lawyers across the country are taking advantage of a June 27 Supreme Court ruling allowing them to advertise the availability and price of routine legal services - a move that consumer advocates believe will increase competition among attorneys and lower the cost of hiring one.
The American Bar Association moved today to place controls on the types of ads lawyers can place without being subject to disciplinary action.
The controls passed by the ABA's board of governors would allow advertisements in printed publications and on the radio - but not on television - and would limit the style and amount of information.
The Supreme Court ruling left room for Bar Association restrictions "on the time, place and manner of advertisements" and especially left open the question of allowing radio and television ads.
These regulations will have to be passed here next week by the ABA's House of Delegates before they become official policy.
The regulations would be advisory to state and local courts and bar associations, which have the actual autority to discipline lawyers.
They run counter to an opinion given to the ABA this week by John H. Shenefield, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Anti-trust Division, "An unsatisfactory solution" that promises only token change from the current restrictive formulation," he termed them.
But ABA president Justin A. Stanley shrugged off the Justice Department's criticism and insisted that "the resistance to change is diminishing" anmong ABA members.
"It's hard to make change," he continued. "We are trying to be responsible but this isn't a simple problem. There's going to be a lot of litigation over it."
The question of advertising has dominated the first two days of the ABA's annual meeting. Many members say the profession would lose respect and they might lose business if lawyers were allowed to advertise freely.
On the other hand, the ABA governors and their task force on lawyer advertisements were warned that a restrictive approach would reinforce the image that lawyers are more interested in feathering own nests than in helping the public.
"Let it not appear as though we have to be dragged screaming into the 20th Century," said Bernard M. Borish, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, at a special task force hearing yesterday.
"This would only nurture the thoughts harbored by many that lawyers have restricted advertising not to protect the public but to benefit themselves."
Since the Supreme Court ruled that lawyers have a constitutional right to advertise, he said, "the burden is on those seeking to limit such rights to establish the necessity and reasonableness of the prohibition.
Jules Bernstein, vice president of National Legal Aid, a defender association, called the ABA regulations "too chilling, too gurdging, too negative."
Nonetheless, the end of restrictions on advertising raises serious problems for organized law's attempts to prevent legal charlatans from flourishing.
One attorney said the full-page ad in the Chicago Defender a black newspaper, might encourage people to file negligence suits for a whole variety of accidents, including "slips and falls," on flimsy grounds. In most cases like that the attorney collects a percentage, which can be as high as 40 per cent, of the award if he wins. And often an insurance company is willing to settle to avoid the expense of a trial.
Radio and television advertising raises a specter of show business to many attorneys, although Mary Gardener Jones, a former Federal Trade Commissioner, said that most poor people get their information from radio and TV, not the newspapers.
While most large successful firms are unlikely to advertise, it may be the only way for young, struggling lawyers to attract clients. It may also speed the growth of legal clerks - storefront firms that offer routine law services at a lower cost than most lawyers.
These clinics would attract middle class Americans who can neither qualify for free legal aid nor afford traditional legal services.
In a recent letter to the ABA, Virginia M. Thomas of Tacoma, Wash., services, just that it seems out of reach of us little folks . . . Is it legal and ethical yet for a lawyer to advertise? It might help."