St. Mary's Law Journal
The Supreme Court decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona ruled that lawyer advertising is commercial speech subject to First Amendment protection. However, a Texas disciplinary statute provided that “a lawyer shall not publicize himself, his partner, or associate…through newspaper or magazine advertisements, radio or television announcements…or other means of commercial publicity.” Despite being clearly unconstitutional, the Texas statute remained law for five years. Finally, responding to Bates in September 1977, the Texas State Bar Board of Directors adopted an official statement which allowed for limited advertising in newspapers, and only to the extent which was provided for by the Bates decision.
Now, “marketing” is a word that has found acceptance among the most highly regarded firms, although some stigma still attaches to “advertising.” In the early days post-Bates, it was considered dirty, disgusting, and low to place a modest advertisement in a newspaper. The power of Bates is not that it made the profession better or worse, more available to customers of legal services or simply more crass. Its power is that it caused the profession to confront a bedrock constitutional principle which lawyers have gladly championed on behalf of clients, but were loath to give a place closer to home. Bates continues to force that confrontation, and remind us that change is inevitable and constant, a part of the life of all practitioners, even of a most traditional and conservative profession.
Gerald S. Reamey, Life in the Early Days of Lawyer Advertising: Personal Recollections of a Bates Baby, 37 St. Mary’s L. J. 887 (2006).