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Victory For Louisiana Firm That Challenged Online Ad Restrictions

By Brian Kumnick on August 12, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019
Louisiana firm the Wolfe Law Group won a victory in federal court this week in its challenge to Louisiana's new regulations on online advertising.

Judge Martin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana granted in part Wolfe's summary-judgment motion, agreeing that the state's efforts to pre-screen ads that attorneys intended to post online ran afoul of the First Amendment.

The Louisiana Supreme Court had revised its attorney-advertising rules at the direction of the state legislature in an apparent effort to "clean up" lawyer advertising in Louisiana and make it more consumer-friendly. Part of this cleanup involved changing the rules for online ads. A firm that wanted to run an ad online would be required to submit the proposed ad to a committee of the Louisiana State Bar Association for review to ensure its compliance with advertising rules, at a fee of $175 per ad.
The plaintiffs pointed out that online ads are frequently narrowly targeted, and therefore are run in multiple variations, each of which would require the $175 fee. This, they argued, was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. They further argued that even some "free" forms of lawyer marketing could be affected by new rules. A blog post on a firm website, for example, could be considered an advertisement that had to be reviewed before posting, again with the fee imposed for each post.

Some of Louisiana's new rules restricting lawyer advertising were upheld by the opinion. But the online-ad rules, according to Judge Feldman, did not reflect any sort of careful consideration or tailoring by the state in attempting to regulate the commercial speech of attorneys.

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