Some lawyers, law firms’ ads may become more transparent under proposal

Many attorneys support a proposal that would require legal services ads that lists a phone number or web site to include a name in an effort to improve transparency and consumer protection.

Under the proposal, advertisements such as 1-800-LAW-FIRM or 1-800-DIVORCE would have to include a name or names of lawyers or a law firm.

The Michigan Supreme Court is accepting written comments on the proposed rule until April 1 before which a public hearing also will take place but has not been scheduled yet, said Supreme Court spokesman John Nevin.

The Representative Assembly of the State Bar of Michigan proposed the new rule for the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct.


Heather Atnip, who practices in Rochester, said the proposal would be important to protect the general public. She said a potential consumer of legal services is often experiencing trauma and may be vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

Transparency and accountability are crucial when people are navigating through personal tragedies such as a catastrophic injury to a loved one, she said in an email.

As attorneys, we have an obligation to protect members of the public from predatory marketing practices. One way to prevent predatory marketing practices is to require that law firms identify themselves in their own marketing materials.

Attorney Henry Gornbein, of Lippitt OKeefe Gornbein in Birmingham, said the proposed rule — which received strong support in the Assembly — is aimed at marketing companies that promote a phone number and is actually only a referral service.

Theyre marketing fronts that farm out the work, Gornbein said. You dont know who you are getting the qualify of the representation. In many cases, its deceptive advertising.

Listing the attorney or firm would allow the consumer to research the potential hire.

R. Timothy Kohler, who practices out of Clinton Township, said the rule was originally targeted at ads containing phone numbers or web addresses on billboards.

He said as a potential competitor to those ads, he wants to know who is behind them.

I want to know who the lawyer is trying to undercut me, he said.

Attorney Sheldon Larky said, While I feel lawyer ads serve a great purpose, there should be transparency of the actual people and firms who are advertising. Fancy or catchy names should not hide the people who are doing the advertising.

Jon Midtgard of Bowyer and Midtgard in Southfield, which does business as the American Divorce Association for Men, doesnt believe the proposal will affect his company because his firm is the only one associated with ADAM in Southeast Michigan. He said the proposal is directed at referral services.

When you call ADAM, you get a law firm, he said.

Other firms do business as ADAM in other metro areas of Michigan, such as Flint, he said.

He believe the proposal may be overkill.

I think its hitting a nail with a sledgehammer, he said.

There are two alternatives for the proposals, one more specific than the other.

Justice Bridget McCormack raises many questions in her opinion that concurred with her colleagues to consider the measure.

I hope that the public-comment process will, at a minimum, address and clarify questions, she wrote.

She asks whether the rule should apply only to ads that solely consist or a web address or telephone number or should it apply to all advertisements?

She also questions whether it should apply to a sign on a lawyer or law firms building and raises the questions of whether online ads would be regulated different than those on billboards, signs and TV and radio and for the definition of image or icon used in the language.

She wrote, Will it include third-party media advertising such as Craigslist listings, Facebook places and Google places?

Send written comments to the Office of Administrative Counsel to P.O. Box 30052, Lansing, MI 48909, or by email to Refer to ADM File No. 2016-27. Comments will be posted under the chapter affected by this proposal at Proposed & Recently Adopted Orders on Admin Matters page.

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