BATES V. STATE BAR OF ARIZONA, 433 U. S. 350 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977)

Bates v. State Bar of Arizona

No. 76-316

Argued January 18, 1977

Decided June 27, 1977

433 U.S. 350


Appellants, who are licensed attorneys and members of the Arizona State Bar, were charged in a complaint filed by the State Bar's president with violating the State Supreme Court's disciplinary rule, which prohibits attorneys from advertising in newspapers or other media. The complaint was based upon a newspaper advertisement placed by appellants for their "legal clinic," stating that they were offering "legal services at very reasonable fees," and listing their fees for certain services, namely, uncontested divorces, uncontested adoptions, simple personal bankruptcies, and changes of name. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the conclusion of a bar committee that appellants had violated the rule, having rejected appellants' claims that the rule violated §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act because of its tendency to limit competition, and that it infringed appellants' First Amendment rights.


1. The restraint upon attorney advertising imposed by the Supreme Court of Arizona wielding the power of the State over the practice of law is not subject to attack under the Sherman Act. Parker v. Brown, 317 U. S. 341, followed; Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U. S. 773; Cantor v. Detroit Edison Co., 428 U. S. 579, distinguished. Pp. 433 U. S. 359-363.

2. Commercial speech, which serves individual and societal interests in assuring informed and reliable decisionmaking, is entitled to some First Amendment protection, Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Consumer Council, 425 U. S. 748, and the justifications advanced by appellee are inadequate to support the suppression of all advertising by attorneys. Pp. 433 U. S. 363-384.

(a) This case does not involve any question concerning in-person solicitation or advertising as to the quality of legal services, but only the question whether lawyers may constitutionally advertise the prices at which certain routine services will be performed. Pp. 433 U. S. 366-367.

(b) The belief that lawyers are somehow above "trade" is an anachronism, and for a lawyer to advertise his fees will not undermine true professionalism. Pp. 433 U. S. 368-372.

(c) Advertising legal services is not inherently misleading. Only routine services lend themselves to advertising, and, for such services, fixed rates can be meaningfully established, as the Arizona State Bar's own Legal Services Program demonstrates. Although a client may not

Page 433 U. S. 351

know the detail involved in a given task, he can identify the service at the level of generality to which advertising lends itself. Though advertising does not provide a complete foundation on which to select an attorney, it would be peculiar to deny the consumer at least some of the relevant information needed for an informed decision on the ground that the information was not complete. Pp. 433 U. S. 372-375.

(d) Advertising, the traditional mechanism in a free market economy for a supplier to inform a potential purchaser of the availability and terms of exchange, may well benefit the administration of justice. Pp. 433 U. S. 375-377.

(e) It is entirely possible that advertising will serve to reduce, not advance, the cost of legal services to the consumer, and may well aid new attorneys in entering the market. Pp. 433 U. S. 377-378.

(f) An attorney who is inclined to cut quality will do so regardless of the rule on advertising, the restraints on which are an ineffective deterrent to shoddy work. Pp. 433 U. S. 378-379.

(g) Undue enforcement problems need not be anticipated, and it is at least incongruous for the opponents of advertising to extol the virtues of the legal profession while also asserting that, through advertising, lawyers will mislead their clients. P. 433 U. S. 379.

3. The First Amendment overbreadth doctrine, which represents a departure from the traditional rule that a person may not challenge a statute on the ground that it might be applied unconstitutionally in circumstances other than those before the court, is inapplicable to professional advertising, a context where it is not necessary to further its intended objective, cf. Bigelow v. Virginia, 421 U. S. 809, 421 U. S. 817-818, and appellants must therefore demonstrate that their specific conduct was constitutionally protected. Pp. 433 U. S. 379-381.

4. On this record, appellants' advertisement (contrary to appellee's contention) is not misleading, and falls within the scope of First Amendment protection. Pp. 433 U. S. 381-382.

(a) The term "legal clinic" would be understood to refer to an operation like appellants' that is geared to provide standardized and multiple services. Pp. 433 U. S. 381-382.

(b) The advertisement's claim that appellants offer services at "very reasonable" prices is not misleading. Appellants' advertised fee for an uncontested divorce, which was specifically cited by appellee, is in line with customary charges in the area. P. 433 U. S. 382.

(c) Appellants' failure to disclose that a name change might be accomplished by the client without an attorney's aid was not misleading, since the difficulty of performing the task is not revealed, and since most

Page 433 U. S. 352

legal services may be performed legally by the citizen for himself. See Faretta v. California, 422 U. S. 806. P. 433 U. S. 382.

113 Ariz. 394, 555 P.2d 640, affirmed in part and reversed in part.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 433 U. S. 386. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 433 U. S. 389. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, post, p. 433 U. S. 404.

Page 433 U. S. 353

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