Revised rules clean up controls over lawyer ads
December 14, 2012
The state Supreme Court, attempting to ensure that Nevadans aren’t swayed by misleading or bogus information when they seek legal help, has signed off on revisions to the rules governing lawyer advertising.State Bar President Frank Flaherty said the revisions were made in November after what he termed “an extended shake-down cruise” testing 2007 changes to rules that were originally written because of numerous complaints from the public and from some lawyers objecting to other attorneys’ ads.“There were major revisions to the rules in 2007,” he said. “The rules at that time were attempting to regulate taste. That becomes subjective and you can have 1st Amendment issues.”The 2007 changes “got rid of the taste requirements,” Flaherty said, adding, “That allowed us to focus on false and deceptive and not get bogged down in First Amendment battles with lawyers with big checkbooks. Now it’s whether it’s false, deceptive or misleading.”The latest rule-tightening included a provision on the use of actors in lawyers’ ads. Now actors have to be clearly identified as such. In the past, disclosure was only required if an ad would otherwise be confusing to the public.Ads also must also name the lawyer or partners who will actually provide the services touted in the ad, and can’t promise that clients have to pay their lawyer only if the attorney wins their court case.“Sometimes when you lose, you have to pay the other guy’s costs,” he said.Lawyers can continue to cite their records and results. “But you can only cite the results if you were lead counsel in the matter or key in the result,” Flaherty said.And from now on, the dollar amount listed in a lawyer’s ad about a court award or settlement benefiting a client must be the amount actually received by the client. If a gross amount received is stated, attorney’s fees, litigation expenses and other amounts withheld from what the client received must be stated as well. Also, ads listing a specific fee or range of fees must list how long those fees are in effect and any other limiting conditions.If an ad is run in any language other than English, any disclaimers must also be in that language.“And for print ads, disclaimers must be big enough to see,” Flaherty said, noting that some current disclaimers are in print so small it’s nearly impossible to read. Also, the rules say any disclaimers in a TV ad must be readable and remain on screen long enough to be read.Not all the changes added new restrictions. For example, an old rules targeting “ambulance-chasing” lawyers barred attorneys from seeking to represent someone for at least 45 days after an incident that could lead to litigation. The new rules cut that to 30 days.For the past five years, all lawyer advertising has been required to be submitted to review committees. Because of 1st Amendment issues — prior restraint — Flaherty said the bar can’t require they be submitted before publication. Instead, they must be submitted within 15 days of publication or broadcast. If a review committee of volunteers finds any ad deceptive or misleading, it must be taken down or stopped.“But lawyers have to submit all their ads,” he said.