$890 million in advertising for clients?

From Forbes today comes this, “Lawyers Bump Advertising Spending to $890 Million in Quest for Clients.”

A few highlights:

The phrase “San Antonio car wreck attorney” is the most expensive search string on the Web, at $670 per click, followed by “Accident attorney Riverside CA,” at $626. In fact, 23 of the 25 most expensive search terms involve lawyers and litigation, according to a new survey by the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which doesn’t think much of lawyer advertising.

Defying the trend toward declining television advertising spending, lawyers have increased their spending by 68% over the past eight years to an expected $892 million this year, the ILR reports, as law firms seek clients for lawsuits over prescription drugs, medical devices and asbestos.

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The ILR study paints a portrait of an industry that knows where its customers are – often in front of a television set, watching afternoon programs, or searching the web for information about a medical condition – and knows how to get their attention.

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Law firm spending on TV ads has been rising six times faster than overall spending since 2008, the study found.

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Lawyers have also flooded the Internet and social media with their messages, buying search terms and linking up with “influencers” and “Super Tweeters” who write about litigious subjects on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Institute for Legal Reform thinks all this advertising stimulates too much litigation, and the example of pelvic mesh implants may demonstrate their point. But plaintiff lawyers and some academics make exactly the opposite argument: Advertising helps drive more socially useful litigation by people who otherwise might not realize they have a valid claim.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held the First Amendment applies to lawyers, too, noted Anthony Sebok, a professor at Cardozo Law School in New York who writes frequently on the merits of greater involvement in civil litigation. “Big Pharma is doing the same thing as Big Tort,” he noted in an e-mail to me, by advertising directly to consumers in order to prompt them to ask their physicians for prescription drugs. The important distinction is between advertising for potential clients and invading their privacy by directly contacting them after an accident or medical mishap.

“Obviously the line between advertising and solicitation is a hard one to draw, but at no time have the courts worried about the interests of defendants when talking about where to draw the line,” Sebok told me.  “The concern is for the victims of accidents, who shouldn’t be harassed and pressured, and the state’s interest in maintaining the reputation of the legal profession.”

Free speech, judges, and Facebook

A Special Court of Review appointed by the Texas Supreme Court recently dismissed all charges against Judge Michelle Slaughter of the Texas 405th District Court in Galveston. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct previously had issued a public admonition about Judge Slaughter’s use of Facebook to inform the public of proceedings in her court. The case raises a host of interesting questions about free speech, the elected judiciary, comments by judges on pending cases, and the use of social media by judges. A link to the full opinion is available here. (Disclaimer: I served as an expert witness on behalf of Judge Slaughter regarding the first amendment issues presented by the case.)