Ever since the 1977 Supreme Court case of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, lawyers have been free to advertise. Does this help or hurt clients or not make any difference?
Attorney advertising falls into three categories. These are:
PICK ME BECAUSE I'LL DO THE SAME WORK FOR LESS
I believe this category of advertising has definitely helped the legal consumer. In the "bad old days" before lawyer advertising, a potential client could not just call up a law office and expect to get a free straight answer to a simple question like, "How much for a will," or "My father died and left X, Y and Z; how much will you charge to probate his estate?" Such fair questions were answered with, "There is no set price; please make an appointment to discuss this; oh, and by the way, there is a fee for the appointment." (Does this remind you of the current practice of many car repair shops when you ask, "My power window doesn't work; what will you charge to fix it?" and the response is, "There's a $90 diagnostic fee which will be applied to your bill if you have the work done here.")
One area where price advertising definitely helps the consumer is minor traffic tickets. In my home town of Las Vegas the traffic courts basically give a good deal to most with traffic tickets. You don't need a lawyer to get this deal for you. But price advertising has made the average fee so cheap that for most people it is a worthwhile convenience to pay a low fee and have an attorney get the deal for them. However, this an area where prices have gotten so low that you should check out the reputation of anyone offering a low price on handling your ticket.
Attorneys who advertise "low cost" "affordable" or even "half-price lawyers" are using terms that are hard to define. But, at least such attorneys should expect and welcome a frank discussion of price during an initial phone call.
PICK ME BECAUSE I AM GREAT
As a court appointed arbitrator in Las Vegas who does a limited number of arbitrations and as an attorney who handles legal malpractice cases, I have come to see that the high budget lawyer advertisers (billboards, tv, Yellow Pages) in the Personal Injury field are mainly attorneys who collect cases and farm them out to others to process. A high budget ad campaign in a big city simply produces too much work for one attorney or even a few attorneys to do. (Or if the high budget ad campaign does not produce an awful lot of work it's a failure and the ad campaign ends.) In my experience some of these big advertisers do a good job of farming the cases out to competent attorneys, and some don't.
Personal advertising does not tend to produce lower fees for the vast majority of clients. This is because personal injury advertising is so crowded and therefore costly that a lawyer can't afford both a big budget ad campaign and a reduction in fees. However, careful clients can find high quality personal injury attorneys who do compete on price if they are willing to look beyond the high cost tv ads, billboards and Yellow Page ads and search on the net where attorneys can advertise virtually for free.
I believe the "Pick Me Because I'm Great" kind of advertising on average neither hurts nor helps the legal consumer.
PICK ME BECAUSE I DO WORK MOST OTHERS DON'T
The most common example of this kind of advertisement is the tv commercial saying, "If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact this 800 number." This ad is seeking out claims against asbestos manufacturers. Other similar ads mention a specific injury from a specific drug. These ads serve to make the public aware that certain claims may be available to be made. However, you don't know if the attorney in the ad is simply collecting cases to farm out or whether the attorney in the ad will actually be working most of the cases collected.
I believe attorney advertising can be helpful to the consumer in keeping legal fees low in some area and in advising people of certain types of claims that can be made. But, consumers should be aware that a lawyer doing a high budget ad campaign is collecting cases for others to work on.
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