It took a protracted debate about how to structure the debate, but eventually The Missouri Bar Board of Governors approved some modest changes in advertising rules.
The board rejected several controversial ideas Wednesday. Among the rejected rules were those preventing ads from vilifying opponents or including celebrity endorsements. The board also turned down a rule setting a precise definition of conspicuous disclosure of the mandatory disclaimer and another requiring direct mail solicitations to tell consumers how to contact the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
“There’s really no empirical evidence backing up any of these,” said board member Carol Chazen Friedman.
Most rules received minimal if any discussion.
Several of the rule changes that were approved basically make clear that legal aid offices and certain other pro bono efforts are exempt from the advertising rules.
Another approved change says ads can’t advertise rates as discount unless that can be proven. In addition, one more rule that passed muster with the board bans implying improper influence with public officials.
The rules that won support of the board now go on to the Missouri Supreme Court, which has final say over whether they are adopted.
The issue of lawyer advertising has always been a hot button for the legal community, with strong opinions on both sides. The comments leading off the meeting were no different, with some saying the board has spent enough time already on the issue and others saying the proposals deserved a fair shake.
“We want to be fair to both sides of this debate,” said Skip Walther, who took over as president after the meeting. “It’s not the only important issue we have to debate.”
In July the board rejected the slate of proposals as a whole in one up-or-down vote, but some supporters of change argued individual rules had support from most members.
“It’s too important to just sweep it under the rug,” said board member Matthew Mocherman.
Members of the advertising committee that presented the ideas were dismayed before the meeting to hear the board didn’t plan to look at the rules one by one after an informal survey didn’t show majority support by board members for any of them.
When the ad discussion was over, personal injury attorney Terry Crouppen, a big opponent of restricting ads, said he was pleased.
“They stood up for the right of the people to get information,” he said. “That’s what this has been about, the people’s right to know.”