Last year we screamed and shouted along with a bunch of other people and prevented New York from passing “ethics” rules that would have essentially shut down New York lawyers’ blogs by regulating them out of existence. Unfortunately all the noise didn’t make it down to Louisiana, which did go ahead and pass a similar set of restrictions under the guise of “consumer protection” but which should be understood as an attempt by established bar-association types to keep the bogeyman of blog- and Internet-savvy lawyers away from their cozy courtroom concessions.
This morning, Wolfe Law Group, L.L.C. filed a suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s new rules governing lawyer advertising. The lawsuit seeks to prevent the enforcement of Louisiana’s new advertising rules, scheduled to take effect on April 1, 2009. The Louisiana advertising rules are some of the most aggressive in the nation, and Wolfe Law Group’s suit argues that the rules go too far and restrict an attorney’s right to freely speak about its trade.
Wolfe Law Group argues that the new rules effectively prevent a lawyer from advertising its services through online mediums, such as Google’s AdWords, as the rules also restrict an attorney’s ability to engage in discourse with colleagues, clients and the public through online bulletin boards, blogs, twitter, and other online communities and forums.
The law firm that practices in the area of construction law out of its offices in New Orleans, Louisiana and Seattle, Washington, is actively engaged in the Internet marketplace, posting daily on sites like wolfelaw.com, Twitter, Facebook, Avvo.com, and similar Web 2.0 services.
The suit argues that Louisiana’s new advertising rules would subject each of the firm’s posts to an “evaluation” by the Louisiana State Bar Association, with an evaluation fee of $175.00.
According to a letter sent to Wolfe Law Group’s colleagues and clients, “The new rules would stifle our firm’s ability to continue talking with you about the legal profession, the construction industry and the evolution of construction law across the nation.”
To continue commenting upon the progress of the action, the firm launched a blog titled “Blogging is Speaking,” at the Web address http://www.protectspeech.com.
Get that? According to this, everything posted online by a Louisiana lawyer — and God help a Web 2.0-oriented shop such as Wolfe or, say, LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® — has to be run past a Louisiana oldlaw censor at $175 a pop! Even assuming it isn’t bounced, that’s a lot of pops per pixel. It’s prior restraint on the First Amendment axis, a restraint of trade (sorry, it’s a profession, but in economic terms a trade) on the antitrust axis, and just plain piggy on the obnoxious axis.
This effort by the Wolfe Law Group deserves the support of blogging and online-networking lawyers, their clients, their prospective clients… everyone who isn’t getting a cut of that $175 per, basically.
MORE: Here’s the preliminary injunction amicus brief filed by Public Citizen.