Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois

RESPONDENT: Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois
LOCATION: Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois (Chicago Office)

DOCKET NO.: 88-1775
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Illinois

CITATION: 496 US 91 (1990)
ARGUED: Jan 17, 1990
DECIDED: Jun 04, 1990

Bruce J. Ennis, Jr. - on behalf of the Petitioner
Steven J. Marzen - on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioner
William F. Moran, III - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Gary Peel, an attorney licensed to practice in three states, received a "Certificate in Civil Trial Advocacy" from the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA). This certificate is earned by compiling extensive trial experience, completing continuing legal education classes, and passing a day-long examination. In addition to listing the three states in which he was licensed to practice, Peel listed his NBTA certification on his letterhead. The Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois filed a complaint against Peel and argued that he was publicly presenting himself as a certified legal specialist in violation of the Illinois Code of Professional Responsibility. At Peel's disciplinary hearing, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed with the Commission and held that Peel's letterhead was commercial speech that could be governed by the lawyer advertising regulations. The Illinois Supreme Court also held that Peel's letterhead amounted to an unwarranted claim of superior quality of service because it could lead the public to believe that his authority to practice trial advocacy was derived from his NBTA certification.


Does listing National Board of Trial Advocacy certifications on an attorney's letterhead have the potential to mislead the public to an extent that warrants a categorical ban of that type of advertising?

Media for Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 17, 1990 in Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning No. 89-1775, Gary Peel v. the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois.

Mr. Ennis.

Bruce J. Ennis, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Petitioner's letterhead contains the truthful and verifiable statement of fact that he has been certified as a civil trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a highly respected organization of judges and lawyers whose certification program has been endorsed by the--

Byron R. White:

How do we know that?

That it's highly respected?

Bruce J. Ennis, Jr.:

--Your Honor, there is no dispute in this record that the National Board of Trial Advocacy is a reputable and nonbogus organization.

It is sponsored by seven national organizations, including the National District Attorneys' Association, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

On its governing board sit many judges, including judges in--

Byron R. White:

And this is all in the record, I take it?

Bruce J. Ennis, Jr.:

--This is in the record below.

Yes, that's correct, your Honor.

Byron R. White:


Bruce J. Ennis, Jr.:

There is no dispute about that fact.

Byron R. White:

Does the state recognize it as a... as an organization that certifies specialists?

Bruce J. Ennis, Jr.:

The state does not recognize any organizations to certify specialists.

In the hearing below, the state took the position that it was not going to argue one way or another about whether the National Board of Trial Advocacy provided meaningful information or not.

The state was willing to assume that the National Board of Trial Advocacy certification did provide meaningful information to consumers.

Nevertheless, the state thought that in order to prevent bogus organizations from springing up, the state needed to have a complete categorical ban, a prophylactic rule which prohibited all statements of certification.

William H. Rehnquist:

How much of your case, Mr. Ennis, depends on the stature of this particular organization?

Bruce J. Ennis, Jr.:

In this particular case, Your Honor, it does not matter at all because this Court's decisions made clear, beginning with R.M. J and followed in Shapero and Zauderer, that the states cannot place an absolute ban on potentially misleading speech.

William H. Rehnquist:

So if it were the Sangamon County Trial Lawyers' Association with a membership of about six in rotating musical chairs, that would still be true, so long as the statement were not false?

Bruce J. Ennis, Jr.:

No, Your Honor.

We do not quarrel with the ability of the state to regulate, to make sure that statements by certifying organizations do provide significant and meaningful information to consumers.

The state could adopt a regulatory scheme and could prohibit statements about certification by bogus organizations.

That is not this case.

Illinois has not tried to distinguish between bogus organizations and meaningful organizations.

Illinois has attempted to prohibit--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, what if it isn't a bogus organization but some little two-bit club that the lawyer truthfully says he belongs to and they've recognized him and given him some certificate?

That's fine, I take it.