A Brief History of Lawyers Yelling At Us Through Our Television Sets

This week’s edition of Roman Mars’ excellent 99% invisible design podcast is about the history of, your favorite and mine, late-night basic cable crazy ass lawyer TV ads.

Apparently lawyer ads have traditionally been a very regulated industry:

Back in the 19th century, you’d see ads for attorneys on the front page of newspapers, alongside ads for doctors, and saddle and harness manufacturers. But in 1908, the American Bar Association put in new rules declaring that self-laudation (that is, speaking well of oneself) “defies the traditions and lowers the tone of our high calling and are intolerable.”

Business cards were OK, but not much beyond that. The ban lasted until 1976, when the law clinic of Bates and O’Steen ran a small classified ad in the Arizona Republic. The Arizona Bar suspended the two lawyers (but only for a week or so). Bates and O’Steen appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And, in the now infamous Bates vs. State Bar of Arizona, the court ruled that lawyers have the same freedom of speech as everybody else—and that speech extends to advertising.

That pretty much opened up the floodgates.

The floodgates indeed.

Also can we talk about how not having TV means I am so behind on this particular strand of collective consciousness? Whenever a friend shouts out a jingle when we pass by a billboard I feel like I am in middle school again when my mom blocked MTV on our cable box. I will now proceed to watch all of these videos on Youtube.



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