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What can lawyers claim in their ads? Supreme Court inaction sets no limit.

Inaction by Supreme Court justices leaves standing a ruling by a federal appeals court that a New York law went too far in restricting claims made by ads for lawyers.

About these ads

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a … lawyer.

The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the thorny issue of how far lawyers may go when seeking to attract clients through whimsical and gimmicky advertising.

The action lets stand a ruling by a federal appeals court invalidating a portion of New York’s rules of professional conduct mandating how law firms in the state are to behave while advertising for new clients.

The rules, adopted in 2006, had prohibited the use of nicknames, trade names, and marketing slogans that might imply an unproved ability to win cases.

The rules also barred use of marketing gimmicks and other attention-grabbing techniques that do not contain objective information about legal services.

After the new rules were adopted, the personal injury law firm, Alexander & Catalano, and the nonprofit group, Public Citizen, filed suit challenging key provisions on grounds that they were unconstitutional restrictions on commercial speech in violation of the First Amendment.

The law firm had spent significant money developing a slogan, “The Heavy Hitters” and a whimsical ad campaign designed to appeal to a less sophisticated clientele in need of legal advice. The ads aired without objection for years – until the new rules were adopted.

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