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Lawyer advertising spurs State Bar survey plan

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Hoosiers will soon be asked whether "ambulance chasing" attorneys should have to wait 30 days after an accident or injury before directly contacting potential clients by mail.

The Indiana State Bar Association plans to find out what residents think about a month-long cooling-off period where lawyers wouldn't be able to advertise their services by direct mail.

At its annual meeting, the bar association's Board of Governors gave approval Oct. 1 for a survey of Indiana residents about a proposed lawyer advertising rule that was submitted to the Indiana Supreme Court two years ago.

That measure includes changes to Section 7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct regarding advertising. Specifically, Rule 7.3(b)(3) wouldn't allow an attorney to advertise directly to a person or their family within a month of any accident or disaster for a personal injury or wrongful death action.

"There is potential for abuse inherent in direct solicitation by a lawyer of prospective clients known to need legal services," the proposed rule commentary says, noting how the public can be overwhelmed after an accident and not able to make a reasoned decision. "The situation is therefore fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and overreaching. This potential for abuse ... justifies the 30-day restriction, particularly since lawyer advertising permitted under these rules offers an alternative means of communicating necessary information to those who may be in need of legal services."

The Rules Committee is still reviewing and considering the request, according to Indiana Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan.

But before a final decision is considered, the ISBA wants the court committee and justices who'd review the issue to have more empirical data from the audience receiving attorney advertising, according to ISBA immediate past-president Doug Church, who watched this issue grow during his term. The survey is intended to follow a 1995 ruling from the United States Supreme Court that determined specific guidelines for adopting these types of rules.

In Florida Bar v. Went for It Inc., 515 U.S. 618 (1995), the court upheld the state's restriction on lawyer advertising under the First Amendment's commercial speech doctrine - the first time justices had done so since the landmark Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), that lifted the traditional ban on lawyer advertising. Florida had adopted a rule in 1990 prohibiting attorneys from sending solicitation letters to injury victims or their relatives until after 30 days had elapsed. One attorney who'd regularly done so challenged the rule on grounds it violated his constitutional free-speech rights.

The court held that Florida's regulation was permissible and states could adopt those rules as long as the particular jurisdiction satisfied a three-prong test: that the government asserts a substantial interest in supporting the regulation; that it can demonstrate the restriction directly and materially advances the interest; and that the regulation is "narrowly drawn." Justices held the protection of potential client's privacy is a substantial interest; that a two-year study conducted on the effects of direct target mailings demonstrated the harms were real and this regulation would alleviate them to a degree; and that a 30-day cooling-off period was acceptably brief and didn't stop people from finding an attorney if they needed one.

Church said the ISBA committee studied several cases but focused on the one from Florida because it provides definitive guidelines.

Specifics haven't been outlined on how the study will be conducted, but it's expected to cost about $25,000 and a firm will likely be hired to survey residents in some fashion, he said. •

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  1. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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