Bates v. State Bar of Arizona

RESPONDENT: State Bar of Arizona
LOCATION: Supreme Court of Arizona

DOCKET NO.: 76-316
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Arizona Supreme Court

CITATION: 433 US 350 (1977)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1977
DECIDED: Jun 27, 1977

Daniel M. Friedman - Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal
John P. Frank - Argued the cause for the appellee
William C. Canby, Jr. - Argued the cause for the appellants

Facts of the case

In regulating the Arizona Bar, the Supreme Court of Arizona restricted advertising by attorneys. Bates was a partner in a law firm which sought to provide low-cost legal services to people of moderate income who did not qualify for public legal aid. Bates and his firm would only accept routine legal matters (many of which did not involve litigation) and depended on a large number of patrons given the low financial return from each client. In assessing their concept of legal services, Bates's firm decided that it would be necessary to advertise its availability and low fees.


Did the Arizona rule, which restricted legal advertising, violate the freedom of speech of Bates and his firm as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Bates v. State Bar of Arizona

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1977 in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 27, 1977 in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 76-316, Bates and others against the State Bar of Arizona will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, this case comes to us from the Supreme Court of Arizona and it is the so-called lawyers advertising case.

The appellants, Mr. Bates and Mr. O'Steen are licensed attorneys and members of the Integrated Arizona State Bar.

wThey were charged in the complaint filed by the president of the State Bar with violating a disciplinary rule of the Supreme Court of Arizona.

That rule prohibited attorneys from advertising in newspapers or other media.

The complaint was based upon a newspaper advertisement, the appellants had inserted for their so-called legal clinic.

The ad stated that they were offering legal services at very reasonable rates and they listed their fees for certain services namely uncontested divorces and uncontested adoptions, simple personal bankruptcies and changes of name.

As their defense to the charge, the appellants claim that the disciplinary rule violated the first two actions of the Sherman Act because of its tendency to limit competition.

But they further claim that it also infringe upon their First Amendment rights.

The Arizona Supreme Court rejected these claims and upheld the conclusion of the Bar Committee that the appellants had violated the disciplinary rule.

We hold first that the restraint upon attorney advertising imposed by the Arizona Supreme Court in fact was the exercise of the power of the State over the practice of law.

And as such, under a case entitled Parker against Brown decided here some years ago, the restraint is not subject to attack under the Sherman Act.

To this extent, therefore, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Arizona is affirmed.

We then turned to the First Amendment issue.

We note that commercial speech was held in the Virginia Pharmacy Board case of last term to be entitled to some First Amendment protection.

In as much as it serves individual and society's interest in assuring, informed and reliable decision making.

We hold in this case that the justifications advanced by the Arizona State Bar are not adequate to support the suppression of all advertising by attorneys.

We note that this case does not involve any question concerning personal solicitation by lawyers (Inaudible) chasing in the light nor does it involve advertising claims as to the quality of legal services.

It concerns instead only the question whether lawyers may constitutionally advertise the prices at which certain routine services will be performed.

Advertising legal services, in our view, is not inherently misleading.

Routine services lend themselves to advertising and this is demonstrated by the legal services program of the Arizona State Bar itself.

Advertising of course does not provide a complete foundation on which a person selects an attorney, but it would be peculiar to deny the consumer at least some relevant information needed for an informed decision.

It is entirely possible that advertising will serve to reduce and not advanced the cause of legal services to the consumer.

On the record of this case, the appellant's advertisement is not misleading and it falls within the scope, the First Amendment protection.

The term legal clinic is understood to refer to an operation like that of the appellant's that is geared to provide standardized and multiple services and the claim to provide services at very reasonable prices is not misleading for the advertised fee is in line with customary charges in the area.

The dissent of course takes the position not -- this will effect profound changes in the practice of law.

Perhaps, this is so nearly all cases of constitutional adjudication.

So, the latter aspect of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Arizona is thus reversed.

In summary then, the state court's judgment is infer -- is affirmed on the antitrust issue and is reversed on the record on the First Amendment issue.

In that part of the opinion filed today which concerns the antitrust issue, all members of the Court joined.