Bar association OKs limits on lawyer ads

March 21, 1991|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Bubba Smith's days as a law firm pitchman may be numbered.

The leaders of the state bar association voted this week to recommend a set of rules to regulate attorney advertising -- including a ban on celebrity endorsements such as the ones featuring the former Baltimore Colts defensive lineman.

The Tuesday night vote by the Maryland State Bar Association's board of governors ended any further discussion in the legislature this year of passing a law to tone down lawyers' adds.

"I'm very pleased," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, a sponsor of the bills and himself a practicing attorney in Clinton.

"I think it's a gigantic step in the right direction to get a hold on the sharks who are making the legal profession, which already has a tarnished name, even more stigmatized than it currently is," he said.

The board of governors' vote means the set of proposed rules will go to the Maryland Court of Appeals' rules committee, which likely will hold a hearing on the recommendations this spring. If that committee approves the rules, the Court of Appeals probably will impose them across the state.

Mr. Miller's bills, which were co-sponsored by Sen. George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore, would have limited sharply the types of ads lawyers could run. They would have prohibited dramatizations of any sort; testimonials and endorsements, celebrity or otherwise; and any discussion of the amount of damage awards or a lawyer's record in winning cases.

The bar association board agreed to most of the prohibitions in Mr. Miller's bills, although it objected on constitutional grounds to a flat-out ban on dramatizations.

Instead, the group suggested a ban on dramatizations "which are ikely to incite or inflame the listener or which are likely to create unjustifiable expectations on the part of the listener about what the lawyer can achieve."

Donald S. Saiontz, a partner in the law firm of Saiontz & Kirk, whose ads feature slow-motion car crashes, said the only people his ads are inciting are fellow lawyers worried about the image of the profession. The Attorney Grievance Commission has received no complaints about lawyer ads, he said.

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