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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 11, 2011

Law professor Hughes member of committee to assess Iowa's lawyer advertising rules

They're everywhere on late night and afternoon TV, ads from lawyers asking if you've been injured in an accident or suffered side effects from a drug or if you have asbestosis or if you want to be represented by an attorney in Iowa who rides a motorcycle.

Whatever it is, attorney advertising is becoming ubiquitous, especially on cable television during off-peak viewing hours when advertising time costs less. The ads are regulated by the Iowa bar through the Iowa Supreme Court, which is now revisiting its rules for lawyer advertising. The court has appointed University of Iowa law professor Emily Hughes to a committee analyzing the advertising rules to see if they comply with recent decisions from the United States Supreme Court.

All states have rules that limit how attorneys can advertise their services, most of them based on a set of model rules offered by the American Bar Association (ABA). The rules are intended to let lawyers advertise their services in the media while also safeguarding the public from ads that contain untruthful or misleading information, Hughes said.

There was a time once when it was against the rules for attorneys to advertise in any way but a line in the telephone book. But the U.S. Supreme Court found those prohibitions unconstitutional in 1977 and has been further loosening restrictions on lawyer advertising ever since.

Iowa's rules are not based on the ABA model but, in fact, are more detailed and strict. Hughes said Iowa's rules limit the kinds of images that can be shown in a TV ad, what the voiceover announcer's tone should be, even what words an attorney can use to describe their practice. They prevent attorneys from actually speaking in an ad, and generally prohibit ads that might be considered intrusive, overbearing or "undignified" for the legal profession.

"Iowa's known for having some of the strictest rules in the country," she said.

Other, less restrictive states allow television ads for attorneys who specialize in liability issues, for instance, featuring dramatic scenes of semi-trucks smashing into cars, or ads where attorneys confidently proclaim that they will do everything they can to stick it to someone on behalf of the client. Iowa rules prohibit those kinds of ads.

Hughes said the Iowa Supreme Court directed the committee to examine Iowa's rules, compare them to the ABA model rules and decisions handed by the U.S. Supreme Court since 1977, and recommend whether new rules or amendments are necessary. For instance, she said the committee is examining whether Iowa's prohibition of certain words in attorney advertising is an undue limitation on an attorney's constitutional right to engage in commercial speech.

Hughes said the committee will submit its report to the Iowa Supreme Court in the coming months.

The committee is currently soliciting public comments about lawyer advertising through Nov. 18. More information about the committee and its work can be found online at

Public comments can be emailed to, or mailed to the committee to Study Lawyer Advertising Rules, 1111 East Court Ave., Des Moines, IA, 50319.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Emily Hughes, 319-335-9886,; Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell),