The Federal Trade Commission is urging the Tennessee Supreme Court not to adopt sweeping new restrictions on attorney advertising, calling the proposed new rules unnecessarily broad and not in the best interest of consumers.
Tennessee is considering proposals that would ban the use of actors playing the role of clients, prohibit ads narrated by well-known spokespeople (here's looking at you, William Shatner) and forbid certain background sounds.
Also on the table: a rule that would limit the images in ads to gavels, scales of justice, the Statue of Liberty, flags, eagles, courthouses, columns, law books or photos of attorneys ("against a plain, single-colored background or unadorned set of law books.") Specifically forbidden: talking dogs and space aliens.
In addition, one proposal calls for ads to be pre-screened by a review committee of the Board of Professional Responsibility, and would ban firms without a "bona fide" office in Tennessee from advertising.
Such restrictions are necessary, according to Nashville personal injury attorney Matthew Hardin, who suggested the most restrictive rules, because "some current and past lawyer advertisements rely on outrageous, misleading, and deceptive advertising techniques. These forms of advertising do not educate the public on the services performed by attorneys in this state, but rather distract, confuse, and mislead," he wrote in a petition to the court.
The Federal Trade Commission in comments filed yesterday disagreed that the proposed restrictions are the answer.
"Imposing overly broad restrictions prevents the communication of truthful and non-misleading information that some consumers may value, which is likely to inhibit competition and frustrate informed consumer choice," wrote Office of Policy Planing head Andrew Gavil; Bureau of Competition Director Richard Feinstein; Charles Harwood, the acting director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection; and Howard Shelanski, director of the Bureau of Economics.
They continued, "More narrowly tailored rules would better address the concerns underlying the proposed regulations. For example, requiring a clear and prominent disclosure that actors are portraying clients would be a less restrictive way to alleviate any concern about potential deception."