Orlando Federalists debate lawyer advertising

Orlando Federalists debate lawyer advertising

first_img Orlando Federalists debate lawyer advertising Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Lawyer advertising is either contributing to the destruction of the legal profession, or just a smoke screen for age-old hostility toward the legal profession.Arguing June 30 at The Federalist Society Orlando Lawyers Division, Rep. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, and Orlando attorney John Morgan made those conflicting cases. The society couldn’t have found two more divergent views.Last spring, Simmons, a lawyer, sponsored HB 1357, which banned lawyer advertisements that solicited potential clients to file a law suit. The bill passed the House 104-8, but wasn’t taken up in the Senate. Morgan founded the small law firm of Morgan, Colling & Gilbert in 1988 that has always heavily advertised and has grown to more than 130 lawyers and about 1,000 total employees in two cities and expects this year to spend about $10 million on advertising.The representative argued that some advertising leads to public mistrust of the profession and the legal system, wariness that is then reflected in legislation that limits the right to jury trials. Simmons noted the recent changes to the workers’ compensation system that restricts attorneys’ fees and said he’s heard talk of applying a similar system to personal injury or medical malpractice cases.“HB 1357 was a shot over the bow, a shot over the bow to The Florida Bar and attorneys. It was for the purpose of letting everybody know that unless The Florida Bar regulates its own and gets rid of bad advertising — which is literally destroying the concept that there is a judicial system that works with attorneys who are respected — then the legislature will,” Simmons said.In response to a question, Simmons said he thinks that shot has been heard and, for the moment, he does not intend to refile the bill next near. “I believe The Florida Bar is stepping up to the plate [with its Special Task Force on Advertising 2004, which is studying ad rules] and will take care of it,” he said. At the end of the spring session, Simmons had said he intended to refile the bill next year, with the expectation it would pass both chambers.Morgan argued that historically people have always had some hostility toward the legal profession — long before the advent of either personal injury attorneys or lawyer advertising.“If we want to delude ourselves and try to believe that the woes we face as lawyers are because of lawyer advertising, it is simply naive and irresponsible,” he said. “We are in a time where medical malpractice claims are down; claims paid are down; jury verdicts are down — since 1997, dramatically; but the insurance industry perpetuates a fraud, which is that there is an insurance crisis and doctors are leaving the state.”Since many other states are having an identical crisis in malpractice insurance rates, Morgan joked that it’s not clear where doctors who are supposedly fleeing Florida are going.He also said lawyer advertising is a First Amendment issue on which the profession should not compromise.“One day we are going to wake up. . . and say, ‘What have we done to ourselves? What have we done to our civil liberties? What did we fight all of these wars for?’ Morgan said. “As lawyers, you’d better think twice before you start whittling away and whittling away. Because one day you’re going to wake up and you’re going to be saying, ‘What was that all about, what did we do to ourselves?’”The two also disagreed about the impact of HB 1357, if it had passed. Simmons said the prohibition against solicitation — defined in the bill as urging, inciting, or encouraging another person to file a suit — would not prevent lawyers from saying “call me” in ads aimed at prospective clients. But Morgan said the very meaning of solicitation is an invitation to “call me.”One audience member asked Simmons how he could rationalize a law to control lawyer advertising with the conservative ideal of limited government.Simmons replied it is a matter of balancing rights, because bad lawyer advertising is damaging the justice system, especially the right to jury trials.“The purpose is to make sure that the fundamental right to a jury trial is not destroyed,” he said. “We are through a whole group of advertising — that is bad advertising — destroying the right to a jury trial.”But Morgan said it’s not certain that advertising is having that kind of negative impact. In response to a question, he agreed that his firm used to seek in court cases to keep the firm’s name off documents and evidence provided to the jury because of concerns about lawyer advertising being controversial. But he said in a recent case in Tampa, it was the defense that filed to keep the firm name off the records, fearing the Morgan, Colling & Gilbert advertisements and slogan — “For the People” — might prejudice the jury in favor of the plaintiffs. August 1, 2004 Senior Editor Regular News Orlando Federalists debate lawyer advertisinglast_img

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