FTC Approves Filing of Amicus Brief with New Jersey Supreme Court

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Commission approval of amicus brief filing: The Commission has approved the filing of an amicus brief with the New Jersey Supreme Court related to the issue of attorney advertising In the brief, the staff of the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning, in coordination with the Office of the General Counsel, state that the Court should vacate Opinion 39, which concerns comparative attorney ratings and advertising. The Opinion, which was issued in mid-2006 by the state’s Committee on Attorney Advertising, prohibits attorneys from participating in ratings programs that result in “Best Lawyers” and “Superlawyers” lists.

In the brief, the staff expresses its support for the argument that Opinion 39 should be vacated and also recommends that the Court revise New Jersey Supreme Court RPC 7.1 to prohibit only false and misleading attorney advertising. In addition to citing First Amendment concerns, the brief argues that there are a growing number and wide variety of legal rating programs in the United States, each with its own method for rating and scoring attorneys based on a variety of criteria, and “these ratings programs serve a consumer demand, and the merit, quality and validity of them is best determined in the marketplace.”

Overly broad restrictions of truthful and non-deceptive information are likely to harm consumers of legal services, the staff contends, by denying them useful information and impeding competition among attorneys. Accordingly, the brief states, “consumers are better off when policy makers address concerns about potentially deceptive advertising with narrowly tailored restrictions.” “If the Court is concerned that the types of advertising considered in Opinion 39 are potentially misleading,” the brief states, “the FTC recommends that the Court adopt a less restrictive remedy of requiring disclosures.”

The Commission vote approving the filing of the brief was 5-0. A copy of the brief, which was filed on May 9, 2007, can be found on the FTC’s Web site as a link to this press release. (FTC File No. V070003; the staff contact is Gustav P. Chiarello, Office of Policy Planning, 202-326-2633.)

Copies of the documents mentioned in this release are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. Call toll-free: 1-877-FTC-HELP.

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