Law Faculty Articles and Research

Professionalism, Legal Advertising, and Free Speech In the Wake of Florida Bar v. Went For It, Inc.

Ronald D. Rotunda, Chapman University


I. INTRODUCTION It is quite common for lawyers to say that law is a "profession," and that, as a consequence, the law should prohibit undignified advertisements. The purpose of such a prohibition is not to protect consumers - an undignified advertisement need not be misleading. 1 Rather, the avowed purpose is to protect the public image of the legal profession. Opponents of advertising speculate and postulate that advertising leads to a worsened public image. 2 A frequently expressed concern is that legal advertising causes the public to see lawyers in a bad light because, as Chief Justice Burger said, there is a "moving away from the principles of professionalism." 3 This theory culminated in Florida Bar v. Went For It, Inc., 4 when the Supreme Court upheld (five to four) Florida regulations that prohibited personal injury plaintiff-lawyers (but not defense-lawyers) from soliciting employment by sending targeted direct mail to accident victims and their relatives until thirty days have passed following an accident or disaster. The Florida Bar argued that it had a "substantial" interest in "maintaining the professionalism of the members of the bar," and that the "public's perception of, and confidence in, its system of justice and those who administer it is critical to the stability of a democratic society."