New Jersey Limits Use of Judicial Testimonials on Law Firm Websites: First Amendment Violation or Valid Disclosure Requirement?

Depending upon a state’s guidelines, attorneys may feature positive reviews from clients and colleagues on their firms’ websites; so why not share similarly glowing remarks from judges? As one New Jersey law firm learned, that is where an ethics committee may draw the line.

Andrew Dwyer of Newark’s The Dwyer Law Firm featured on the firm’s website compliments made by judges in unpublished opinions in response to his fee applications. Because the full text of those opinions was not included, one judge requested removal of his complimentary statements about Dwyer. Upon Dwyer’s refusal to remove those compliments, the judge referred Dwyer to the New Jersey Committee on Attorney Advertising. In response, the Committee created Attorney Advertising Guideline 3, which states that “an attorney or law firm may not include, on a website or other advertisement, a quotation or excerpt from a court opinion (oral or written) about the attorney’s abilities or legal services. An attorney may, however, present the full text of the opinions, including those that discuss the attorney’s legal abilities, on a website or other advertisement.” In addition to the published guideline, the New Jersey Supreme Court indicated that the ABA Rules of Professional Misconduct were implicated by Dwyer’s posts. Specifically, Dwyer’s posts implicated Rule 7.1(a), as they could have been misleading if taken out of context.

Dwyer filed a complaint seeking to enjoin enforcement of Guideline 3, arguing that it was an unconstitutional restriction on attorneys’ First Amendment rights.  However, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey disagreed, and held in Dwyer v. Cappell that “Guideline 3 is not a ban on speech but is instead a disclosure requirement, because it requires full disclosure of a judicial opinion.”  Dwyer has vowed to appeal this decision.  Do you think that Guideline 3 is unconstitutionally infringing on attorneys’ freedom of speech rights or is it just a disclosure requirement?  Will this decision ultimately deprive consumers of useful information?

Click here to read more about the case.

 

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