Rule proposal eyes advertising change

By Thomas Franz
BridgeTower Media Newswires

A proposed amendment to the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct could bring more regulation to advertising for law firms.

Jules B. Olsman, president of Olsman, MacKenzie, & Wallace in Berkley, has been pushing for reform in the advertising area for several years, and his most recent proposal appears to have caught traction in the legal community.

On Jan. 10, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an order stating that it is considering amendments of Rule 7.2, which governs advertising.

Currently, there are three components to the rule, and the amendment would add a fourth. There are two alternatives being considered for the additional component, which, if approved, would essentially require websites to identify the names of the attorneys who would be performing the work for clients.

“This started at least four years ago. I had a proposal through the Representative Assembly to require on any ad, unless it had the name of the law firm, whether it be a billboard or any other media, that there be the name of the law firm or lawyer paying for the ad,” Olsman said.

The initial proposal was turned away, but Olsman’s new effort is picking up steam. He identified several websites or advertisers that claim to provide legal services, but do not name the attorneys performing the work anywhere on their website or advertisement.

“If you’re going to hold yourself out as the purveyor of legal services, then we as the public and the rest of the legal profession deserve to know who you are,” Olsman said.

Alternative A for the rule change reads: Services of a lawyer or law firm that are advertised under the heading of a phone number, web address, image, or icon shall identify the lawyers or law firm providing the services. Any website advertising the services of a lawyer or law firm must contain the name(s) of the attorney(s) providing the services.

Alternative B states: Any communication made pursuant to this rule shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.

“Two years ago, I was in front of the Representative Assembly with this idea which is if you advertise under an assumed name, you have to show a link to a website that will list the names of the lawyers who work in the firm,” Olsman said. “I want to stop out-of-state entities trying to hustle cases in Michigan.”

A concern that’s been raised on the possible regulation has been infringing upon First Amendment rights.

In a published public comment on the court’s website, Constitutional Law Professor Robert A. Sedler from Wayne State University Law School addressed those concerns and explained why the new regulations would not infringe on First Amendment rights.

“As a general proposition, the requirement is fully constitutional (1) because it does not interfere in any way with the ability of a lawyer or law firm to advertise that it provides legal services, (2) the requirement provides additional information to the public, and (3) the requirement is substantially related to the advancement of an important governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of advancing that interest,” Sedler wrote.

In his public comment, Ari Kresch, managing partner of 1-800-LAW-FIRM, argued against the new regulation.

“Both of the proposed amendments to MRPC 7.2 are contrary to the fundamental purpose ingrained in the rule, as the proposals place additional prohibitive obligations upon firms that would only serve to limit the stream of information to consumers seeking legal services,” Kresch wrote.

Olsman’s primary aim is to ensure that the public can readily find the names of attorneys in a firm so they can see that they are licensed and competent to provide legal services.

“As long as it discloses who the players are, it’s fine with me, and I think it’s fine with everyone else. I don’t understand why anybody would want to operate incognito unless you’re not a law firm,” Olsman said.
Olsman expects the court to schedule a hearing for the amendment this fall. He also expects the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners to vote on it this summer.

“The only people I can think of who are not in favor of it are people who want to work in the shadows. I’m not interested in protecting that. I’m interested in protecting the public and profession from predatory practices,” Olsman said.

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