FTC: Alabama ad restrictions go too far

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Alabama's proposed restrictions on lawyer advertising would be more
restrictive than necessary to prevent misleading or deceptive advertising,
Federal Trade Commission lawyers told the state's supreme court.

"Rules that unnecessarily restrict competition or the transmission of
truthful and nondeceptive information are likely to harm consumers," wrote
staffers led by Howard Beales, director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau.
The FTC's opinion was a response to the Alabama Supreme Court's invitation for
comment.

Alabama's proposed rules would, among other things, prohibit anyone other
than the lawyer from appearing in TV and radio ads and restrict the lawyer's
depicted surroundings to his or her office, a bookcase or solid-color
background. Also, the advertisement would be required to provide only useful,
factual information in a "nonsensational" manner that avoids slogans, jingles,
or oversized signs that "diminish public confidence in the legal system."

The FTC countered that "some consumers are most effectively reached by
advertising that may be considered undignified" and that "effectively
communicating the availability of legal services to such consumers should not be
ignored." Without suggesting that the Alabama proposal would be unlawful, the
FTC encouraged state officials to tailor restrictions narrowly in their efforts
to prevent unfair or deceptive practices.

The FTC gave similar advice on advertising to the American Bar Association in
1994.

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