Bates v. State Bar of Arizona

The way most people hire a personal injury lawyer began to change in 1977 because the United States Supreme court decided a case called Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350, 97 S.Ct. 2691, 53 L.Ed.2d 810 (1977). In the Bates case, the Court concluded that banning lawyers from advertising is a violation of the lawyers First Amendment right to free speech. Although lawyers were suddenly allowed to advertise, things did not change overnight. Most lawyers looked down on advertising. Furthermore, most people were not familiar with the concept of hiring a lawyer based on an ad. The result was that very few lawyers advertised and most people still obtained a personal injury lawyer through a recommendation.

The change occurred so slowly that it was barely noticed. One day people woke up to the fact they were simply inundated with personal injury advertisements. The change occurred because of two very powerful trends. The first trend involves an advertising concept called conditioning. It means that when something occurs over and over again, people get used to it. Then over time it becomes accepted. That is basically what has happened with personal injury attorney advertising.

The Rise of Advertisements

The conditioning has occurred both with lawyers and the general public. Throughout the 1980s most lawyers still looked at lawyer advertising as unethical and the general public looked at it as somewhat unusual. As more and more of the pre advertising lawyers retired, a new breed of personal injury lawyer developed. From the time they were old enough to remember, they were exposed to lawyer advertising. By the time they graduated law school, the concept of lawyer advertising being unethical no longer existed. These lawyers began to think of lawyer advertising as no different than any other business advertising. With the stigma and inhibitions within the legal profession disappearing, more and more personal injury attorney advertising began appearing. By the late 1990’s it became a reluctantly accepted business practice. Because more lawyers were advertising, the general public became so exposed to it they began to accept it. The process of conditioning was complete.

However, lawyer advertising probably would not have proliferated the way it has if it were not for the second very powerful trend. Without it, the advertising would simply not have been so successful. The trend involves the transient nature of today’s society. There are people that continue to live in the same community all their lives. However, they are becoming a smaller and smaller segment of society. People move for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s to move to college, for a promotion within the company they are working for, a new job all together, or just a change of scenery. The result is the same. Many people simply do not stay in the same community for long enough to know a good personal injury attorney or know someone that does. Without a recommendation, the only way most people today become aware of a personal injury lawyer is through advertising.