Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Third Circuit: Attorney Advertising Rule Regarding Excerpts from Judicial Opinions Violates First Amendment
The New Jersey Supreme Court's Guideline 3 governing attorney advertising provides:
An attorney or law firm may not include, on a website or other advertisement, a quotation or excerpt from a court opinion (oral or written) about the attorney’s abilities or legal services. An attorney may, however, present the full text of opinions, including those that discuss the attorney’s legal abilities, on a website or other advertisement.
The Third Circuit's opinion in Dwyer v. Cappell found this guideline violated the First Amendment's protection of commercial speech in a rather straightforward application of Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio, 471 U.S. 626 (1985). The court chose to analyze the regulation as one of mandated disclosure - - - the entire opinion must be provided - - - rather than one of prohibition, although the Guideline
bears characteristics of both categories. Yet we need not decide whether it is a restriction on speech or a disclosure requirement. This is because the Guideline is not reasonably related to preventing consumer deception and is unduly burdensome. Hence it is unconstitutional under even the less-stringent Zauderer standard of scrutiny.
The case arose because New Jersey attorney Andrew Dwyer, specializing in employee representation, ran afoul of Guideline 3 - - - which may have been specifically targeted at him - - - by using on his website language from judicial opinions in attorney fee award matters that duly assessed his competency. At bottom is the general concept of professional responsibility prohibiting judicial endorsement of attorneys, but in the context of fee award decisions, such assessment is explicitly required. One judge objected to the use of his comments in an opinion and Guideline 3 eventually resulted.
The Third Circuit implicitly rejected the notion that such excerpts were inherently misleading and noted that even if the excerpts were "potentially misleading to some persons," there is no explanation of how "Dwyer’s providing a complete judicial opinion somehow dispels this assumed threat of deception." Moreover, the Third Circuit found under Zauderer that the disclosure requirement was burdensome: accurately quoted material is not acceptable absent the full-length judicial opinion and even "a hyperlink to unquoted portions of the opinion fails the Guideline."
The Third Circuit's conclusion is well-founded in established First Amendment doctrine that robustly protects advertising, even by attorneys.