WMT: Law Blogs - Free Speech or Marketing? Hunter v. Virginia Bar Concludes

July 22, 2013

hunter_lipton_image.jpgIt seems like I've been writing and speaking on Hunter v. Virginia State Bar for years! And that is because I have. But, alas, now it has come to a close with the United States Supreme Court once again deciding not to hear a case regarding attorney advertising regulation. One of these days, though!

With "cert. denied" just last month, I thought it was a good time to review the case in my monthly Web Marketing Today piece. I found the case fascinating on a number of fronts. There were components in which I found myself agreeing in part with both sides. While I did not always agree with Horace Hunter, I found his no-holds-barred desire to stand on principle--despite enormous time and cost--valiant. He believed that he had a right to free speech, and he also felt that the Bar was picking on the little guy. As I note in the piece, most attorneys and law firms would have simply capitulated to the original correspondence from the state bar. Not here. Hunter never backed down and openly spoke about the matter through years of litigation. You can argue that both sides won something.

On the flip side, I did agree with the Virginia Bar in viewing the blog through the lens of advertising regulations, simply because I did not think this particular state's rules really hampered Hunter's blog and content. In some states, I might not feel as strongly toward that point of view. But the reality is that state bars are simply not equipped to start parsing the gray areas that exist in today's world of Internet communication--changing rapidly. Way too rapidly for the Rules of Professional Conduct to keep pace with the nuances.

Following many of my CLE programs and comments on what I always called the "Hunter Blog Case," I had spirited debates with attorneys who had strong feelings on both sides of the arguments. In the WMT article, I do make suggestions as to how a blog might be seen by regulators as "free speech" versus "advertising" and vice-versa. Let me know your thoughts.