Do Attorney's Have the Constitutional Right to Advertise Their Availability and Fees for Routine Services ?
In Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350, 376, 97 S. Ct. 2691, 53 L. Ed. 2d 810 (1977), the Supreme Court held generally that attorney advertising "may not be subjected to blanket suppression," and more specifically that attorneys have the constitutional right to advertise their availability and fees for performing routine services. Id. at 383-84.
The cost of legal services, the Supreme Court concluded, would be "relevant information needed to reach an informed decision." Id. at 374.
In reaching this conclusion the Supreme Court recognized that "advertising is the traditional mechanism in a free-market economy for a supplier to inform a potential purchaser of the availability and terms of exchange." Id. at 376.
"Commercial speech serves to inform the public of the availability, nature, and prices of products and services, and thus performs an indispensable role in the allocation of resources in a free enterprise system.
In short, such speech serves individual and societal interests in assuring informed and reliable decisionmaking." Id. at 364.
The Supreme Court emphasized that advertising by lawyers could be regulated and noted that "because the public lacks sophistication concerning legal services, misstatements that might be overlooked or deemed unimportant in other advertising may be found quite inappropriate in legal advertising." Id. at 383.
The Supreme Court specifically declined to address the "peculiar problems associated with advertising claims relating to the quality of legal services," but observed that "such claims probably are not susceptible of precise measurement or verification and, under some circumstances, might well be deceptive or misleading to the public, or even false." Id. at 366.