I had the opportunity last Friday to attend the joint APRL/NOBC program put on during the National Organization of Bar Counsel meeting in Chicago (which also happens at the same time as APRL’s annual meeting, which happens to run at the same time as the ABA Annual Meeting). The joint program focused on APRL’s white paper proposing to revise the ABA Model Rules addressing advertising with a new version of RPC 7.1 serving to replace several, but not all, of the existing ABA Model Rules in the 7 series addressing advertising. You can read my short-form thoughts on the APRL proposal in an earlier post here.
I certainly found the discussion and comments that were made during the joint program to be encouraging as the sentiment of all who spoke, including audience members, ranged from effusively supportive to generally supportive with a believed need for some tweaks. It is, of course, dangerous to assume that the dynamic of those willing to speak up was indicative of the room as a whole. As to those who kept their thoughts to themselves, it is nothing more than tea leaf reading to try to determine whether their silence stemmed from support, indifference, or opposition but a lack of interest in making their feelings known.
That being said, I do think important things can be gleaned from what was said by those who served in roles as bar regulators or bar counsel. Although each individual gave the expected disclaimers that they were not speaking for anyone officially, those folks on the NOBC side of things did seem to be truly aware of the notions that: (1) the regulations on advertising have gotten far removed from things that actually exist to protect consumers of legal services from being actually deceived by lawyers; (2) for the most part, consumers do not complain about lawyer advertisements; and (3) that to the extent existing restrictions prevent dissemination of information about availability of legal services that is contrary to the interests of the public and that access to justice ought not be hampered by regulations that attempt to “protect” consumers from things that consumers do not consider to be at all “harmful” to them.
Time will tell whether this effort will gain further traction — and a lot will depend on whether the ABA powers-that-be will back the proposal and I know some lawyers who are quite skeptical about that prospect — but, for now, I remain optimistic that this pendulum will continue to swing in the right direction.