The Rules Committee of the Maryland Court of Appeals gave preliminary approval yesterday to four new guidelines regulating lawyer advertising, in an industry-backed move designed to head off a revival of legislative proposals that would have imposed much tighter restrictions.
The proposals now will come before the Court of Appeals for final consideration, said Janet Eveleth, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Bar Association. "I don't know what the time frame is," she said. "I would say at least two months."
The rules would allow attorneys to advertise what areas of law they specialize in, which is now against rules that Ms. Eveleth acknowledged are widely broken.
But the other changes tighten the rules.
* Lawyers will not be able to use celebrity endorsements unless the celebrity has a pre-existing client relationship with the law firm.
* Advertisements that say clients pay no fee unless they win a damage award will require disclosure if the client is to be responsible for court costs in a losing case.
* Lawyers who advertise their success in winning big awards for clients will have to add a disclaimer noting that past results don't guarantee that a future client will also win big.
One of the state's most prominent lawyers to use advertising said he doesn't plan to challenge the rules.
"Not only is there not any opposition, but the lawyers who advertise have actually been endorsing" the changes, said Stephen L. Miles. "If challenged, they would probably all be illegal. But I don't intend to challenge them."
Mr. Miles said he believes there is no need to regulate lawyer advertising, but that living with limited rules would help stave off what he called "blackmail" by the General Assembly, where Sen. George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. have sponsored bills in recent sessions to impose much tighter rules.
CMr. Miller's bill would have required attorneys' ads to include the disclaimer: "The decision to seek legal services and choose a lawyer is extremely important and should not be based solely upon advertisements or self-proclaimed expertise."
Ms. Eveleth said the Bar Association thinks the Court of Appeals can do a better job of regulating advertising than the legislature can. "We feel that's where it belongs, that the Court of Appeals controls lawyers in Maryland. Since they have control of everything else, we feel lawyer ad regulation should go to the court."