A new survey asks Maryland residents to help render a verdict on the booming practice of lawyer advertising.
The Maryland State Bar Association is in the process of conducting a public opinion study to determine the impact of lawyer advertising on the state's citizens. The bar association embarked on the project in response to the heated debate among legislators and judicial officials.
Officially, the survey began Monday, June 17, but the bar association has not yet received any responses. The organization would like citizens to send their written views on the benefits, effects, impressions, results and influence generated by lawyer ads.
"We do not condone lawyer advertising," said Janet Stidman Eveleth of the bar association. "However, we realize being a lawyer is a business and advertising is a marketing tool. Thus, the bar asks that advertisements be more professional, rather than tactless."
The debate began when several bills were introduced in the General Assembly -- which includes a substantial number of lawyers -- to restrict lawyer ads in response to a number of allegedly false and misleading advertisements. The bills died during the session.
But the legislation prompted the Maryland Court of Appeals to say it would review its own 1986 ruling that bars deceptive and misleading advertisements by lawyers.
The Court of Appeals' original ruling came nine years after the U.S. Supreme Court opened the commercial advertising field to law firms.
The Maryland high court has decided to act again because "the newness of lawyer advertising makes the issue so sensitive," said Appeals Court Judge Alan M. Wilmer, the head of the Rules Committee.
"The survey of public attitudes combined with other data will help the members of the committee come to a conclusion of whether the ads are consistent with current rules," he said.
Written responses can be mailed to: Maryland State Bar Association, P.O. Box 49, Annapolis, Md. 21404. In addition to the survey, the bar association will analyze lawyer advertisements from television, radio, newspapers, journals and telephone books.
As soon as the bar receives an adequate number of responses from the public, it will submit a report to the court.