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R. M. J.


decided: January 25, 1982.

IN RE R. M. J.


Powell, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Author: Powell

[ 455 U.S. Page 193]

 JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Court's decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), required a re-examination of long-held perceptions as to "advertising" by lawyers. This appeal presents the question whether certain aspects of the revised ethical rules of the Supreme Court of Missouri regulating lawyer advertising conform to the requirements of Bates.


As with many of the States, until the decision in Bates, Missouri placed an absolute prohibition on advertising by lawyers.*fn1 After the Court's invalidation of just such a prohibition in Bates, the Committee on Professional Ethics and Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Missouri revised that court's Rule 4 regulating lawyer advertising. The Committee sought to "strike a midpoint between prohibition and unlimited advertising,"*fn2 and the revised regulation of advertising, adopted with slight modification by the State Supreme Court, represents a compromise. Lawyer advertising is permitted, but it is restricted to certain categories of information, and in some instances, to certain specified language.

[ 455 U.S. Page 194]

     Thus, part B of DR 2-101 of the Rule states that a lawyer may "publish . . . in newspapers, periodicals and the yellow pages of telephone directories" 10 categories of information: name, address and telephone number; areas of practice; date and place of birth; schools attended; foreign language ability; office hours; fee for an initial consultation; availability of a schedule of fees; credit arrangements; and the fixed fee to be charged for certain specified "routine" legal services.*fn3 Although the Rule does not state explicitly that these 10 categories of information or the 3 indicated forms of printed advertisement are the only information and the only means of advertising that will be permitted,*fn4 that is the interpretation given the Rule by the State Supreme Court and the Advisory Committee*fn5 charged with its enforcement.

In addition to these guidelines, and under authority of the Rule, the Advisory Committee has issued an addendum to the Rule providing that if the lawyer chooses to list areas of

[ 455 U.S. Page 195]

     practice in his advertisement, he must do so in one of two prescribed ways. He may list one of three general descriptive terms specified in the Rule -- "General Civil Practice," "General Criminal Practice," or "General Civil and Criminal Practice." Alternatively, he may use one or more of a list of 23 areas of practice, including, for example, "Tort Law," "Family Law," and "Probate and Trust Law." He may not list both a general term and specific subheadings, nor may he deviate from the precise wording stated in the Rule. He may not indicate that his practice is "limited" to the listed areas and he must include a particular disclaimer of certification of expertise following any listing of specific areas of practice.*fn6

[ 455 U.S. Page 196]

     Finally, one further aspect of the Rule is relevant in this case. DR 2-102 of Rule 4 regulates the use of professional announcement cards. It permits a lawyer or firm to mail a dignified "brief professional announcement card stating new or changed associates or addresses, change of firm name, or similar matters." The Rule, however, does not permit a general mailing; the announcement cards may be sent only to "lawyers, clients, former clients, personal friends, and relatives."*fn7 Mo. Rev. Stat., Sup. Ct. Rule 4, DR 2-102(A)(2) (1978) (Index Vol.).


Appellant graduated from law school in 1973 and was admitted to the Missouri and Illinois Bars in the same year. After a short stint with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C., appellant moved to St. Louis, Mo., in April 1977, and began practice as a sole practitioner. As a means of announcing the opening of his office, he mailed professional announcement cards to a selected list of addressees. In order to reach a wider audience, he placed several advertisements in local newspapers and in the yellow pages of the local telephone directory.

The advertisements at issue in this litigation appeared in January, February, and August 1978, and included information

[ 455 U.S. Page 197]

     that was not expressly permitted by Rule 4. They included the information that appellant was licensed in Missouri and Illinois. They contained, in large capital letters, a statement that appellant was "Admitted to Practice Before THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT." And they included a listing of areas of practice that deviated from the language prescribed by the Advisory Committee -- e. g., "personal injury" and "real estate" instead of "tort law" and "property law" -- and that included several areas of law without analogue in the list of areas prepared by the Advisory Committee -- e. g., "contract," "zoning & land use," "communication," "pension & profit sharing plans."*fn8 See n. 6, supra. In addition, and with the exception of the advertisement appearing in August 1978, appellant failed to include the required disclaimer of certification of expertise after the listing of areas of practice.

On November 19, 1979, the Advisory Committee filed an information in the Supreme Court of Missouri charging appellant

[ 455 U.S. Page 198]

     with unprofessional conduct. The information charged appellant with publishing three advertisements that listed areas of law not approved by the Advisory Committee, that listed the courts in which appellant was admitted to practice, and, in the case of two of the advertisements, that failed to include the required disclaimer of certification. The information also charged appellant with sending announcement cards to "persons other than lawyers, clients, former clients, personal friends, and relatives" in violation of DR 2-102(A)(2). In response, appellant argued that, with the exception of the disclaimer requirement, each of these restrictions upon advertising was unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In a disbarrment proceeding, the Supreme Court of Missouri upheld the constitutionality of DR 2-101 of Rule 4 and issued a private reprimand. 609 S. W. 2d 411 (1981). But the court did not explain the reasons for its decision, nor did it state whether it found appellant to have violated each of the charges lodged against him or only some of them. Indeed, the court only purported to uphold the constitutionality of DR 2-101; it did not mention the propriety of DR 2-102, which governs the use of announcement cards.

Writing in separate dissenting opinions, Chief Justice Bardgett and Judge Seiler argued that the information should be dismissed. The dissenters suggested that the State did not have a significant interest either in requiring the use of certain, specified words to describe areas of practice or in prohibiting a lawyer from informing the public as to the States and courts in which he was licensed to practice. Nor would the dissenters have found the mailing of this sort of information to be unethical.*fn9

[ 455 U.S. Page 199]


In Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), the Court considered whether the extension of First Amendment protection to commercial speech announced in Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976), applied to the regulation of advertising by lawyers.*fn10 The Bates Court held that indeed lawyer advertising was a form of commercial speech, protected by the First Amendment, and that "advertising by attorneys may not be subjected to blanket suppression." 433 U.S., at 383.

More specifically, the Bates Court held that lawyers must be permitted to advertise the fees they charge for certain "routine" legal services. The Court concluded that this sort of price advertising was not "inherently" misleading, and therefore could not be prohibited on that basis. The Court also rejected a number of other justifications for broad restrictions upon advertising including the potential adverse effect of advertising on professionalism, on the administration

[ 455 U.S. Page 200]

     of justice, and on the cost and quality of legal services, as well as the difficulties of enforcing standards short of an outright prohibition. None of these interests was found to be sufficiently strong or sufficiently affected by lawyer advertising to justify a prohibition.

But the decision in Bates nevertheless was a narrow one. The Court emphasized that advertising by lawyers still could be regulated.*fn11 False, deceptive, or misleading advertising remains subject to restraint,*fn12 and the Court recognized that advertising by the professions poses special risks of deception -- "because the public lacks sophistication concerning legal services, misstatements that might be overlooked or deemed unimportant in other advertising may be found quite inappropriate in legal advertising." Ibid. (footnote

[ 455 U.S. Page 201]

     omitted). The Court suggested that claims as to quality or in-person solicitation might be so likely to mislead as to warrant restriction. And the Court noted that a warning or disclaimer might be appropriately required, even in the context of advertising as to price, in order to dissipate the possibility of consumer confusion or deception.*fn13 "[The] bar retains the power to correct omissions that have the effect of presenting an inaccurate picture, [although] the preferred remedy is more disclosure, rather than less." Id., at 375.*fn14

[ 455 U.S. Page 202]

     In short, although the Court in Bates was not persuaded that price advertising for "routine" services was necessarily or inherently misleading, and although the Court was not receptive to other justifications for restricting such advertising, it did not by any means foreclose restrictions on potentially or demonstrably misleading advertising. Indeed, the Court recognized the special possibilities for deception presented by advertising for professional services. The public's comparative lack of knowledge, the limited ability of the professions to police themselves, and the absence of any standardization in the "product" renders advertising for professional services especially susceptible to abuses that the States have a legitimate interest in controlling.

Thus, the Court has made clear in Bates and subsequent cases that regulation -- and imposition of discipline -- are permissible where the particular advertising is inherently likely to deceive or where the record indicates that a particular form or method of advertising has in fact been deceptive. In Ohralik v. Ohio State Bar Assn., 436 U.S. 447, 462 (1978), the Court held that the possibility of "fraud, undue influence, intimidation, overreaching, and other forms of 'vexatious conduct'" was so likely in the context of in-person solicitation, that such solicitation could be prohibited. And in Friedman v. Rogers, 440 U.S. 1 (1979), we held that Texas could prohibit the use of trade names by optometrists, particularly in view of the considerable history in Texas of deception and abuse worked upon the consuming public through the use of trade names.

[ 455 U.S. Page 203]

     Commercial speech doctrine, in the context of advertising for professional services, may be summarized generally as follows: Truthful advertising related to lawful activities is entitled to the protections of the First Amendment. But when the particular content or method of the advertising suggests that it is inherently misleading or when experience has proved that in fact such advertising is subject to abuse, the States may impose appropriate restrictions. Misleading advertising may be prohibited entirely. But the States may not place an absolute prohibition on certain types of potentially misleading information, e. g., a listing of areas of practice, if the information also may be presented in a way that is not deceptive. Thus, the Court in Bates suggested that the remedy in the first instance is not necessarily a prohibition but preferably a requirement of disclaimers or explanation. 433 U.S., at 375. Although the potential for deception and confusion is particularly strong in the context of advertising professional services, restrictions upon such advertising may be no broader than reasonably necessary to prevent the deception.

Even when a communication is not misleading, the State retains some authority to regulate. But the State must assert a substantial interest and the interference with speech must be in proportion to the interest served. Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U.S. 557, 563-564 (1980).*fn15 Restrictions must be narrowly drawn, and the State lawfully may regulate only to the extent regulation furthers the State's substantial interest. Thus, in Bates, the Court found that the potentially adverse

[ 455 U.S. Page 204]

     effect of advertising on professionalism and the quality of legal services was not sufficiently related to a substantial state interest to justify so great an interference with speech.*fn16 433 U.S., at 368-372, 375-377.


We now turn to apply these generalizations to the circumstances of this case.*fn17

The information lodged against appellant charged him with four separate kinds of violation of Rule 4: listing the areas of his practice in language or in terms other than that provided by the Rule, failing to include a disclaimer, listing the courts and States in which he had been admitted to practice, and mailing announcement cards to persons other than "lawyers, clients, former clients, personal friends, and relatives." Appellant makes no challenge to the constitutionality of the disclaimer requirement,*fn18 and we pass on to the remaining three infractions.

[ 455 U.S. Page 205]

     Appellant was reprimanded for deviating from the precise listing of areas of practice included in the Advisory Committee addendum to Rule 4. The Advisory Committee does not argue that appellant's listing was misleading. The use of the words "real estate" instead of "property" could scarcely mislead the public. Similarly, the listing of areas such as "contracts" or "securities," that are not found on the Advisory Committee's list in any form, presents no apparent danger of deception. Indeed, as Chief Justice Bardgett explained in dissent, in certain respects appellant's listing is more informative than that provided in the addendum. Because the listing published by the appellant has not been shown to be misleading, and because the Advisory Committee suggests no substantial interest promoted by the restriction, we conclude that this portion of Rule 4 is an invalid restriction upon speech as applied to appellant's advertisements.

Nor has the Advisory Committee identified any substantial interest in a rule that prohibits a lawyer from identifying the jurisdictions in which he is licensed to practice. Such information is not misleading on its face. Appellant was licensed to practice in both Illinois and Missouri. This is factual and highly relevant information particularly in light of the geography of the region in which appellant practiced.

Somewhat more troubling is appellant's listing, in large capital letters, that he was a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. See Appendix to this opinion. The emphasis of this relatively uninformative fact is at least bad taste. Indeed, such a statement could be misleading to the general public unfamiliar with the requirements of admission to the Bar of this Court. Yet there is no finding to this effect by the Missouri Supreme Court. There

[ 455 U.S. Page 206]

     is nothing in the record to indicate that the inclusion of this information was misleading. Nor does the Rule specifically identify this information as potentially misleading or, for example, place a limitation on type size or require a statement explaining the nature of the Supreme Court Bar.

Finally, appellant was charged with mailing cards announcing the opening of his office to persons other than "lawyers, clients, former clients, personal friends and relatives." Mailings and handbills may be more difficult to supervise than newspapers. But again we deal with a silent record. There is no indication that an inability to supervise is the reason the State restricts the potential audience of announcement cards. Nor is it clear that an absolute prohibition is the only solution. For example, by requiring a filing with the Advisory Committee of a copy of all general mailings, the State may be able to exercise reasonable supervision over such mailings.*fn19 There is no indication in the record of a failed effort to proceed along such a less restrictive path.*fn20 See Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Comm'n, 447 U.S., at 566 ("we must determine whether the regulation . . . is not more extensive than is necessary to serve" the governmental interest asserted).

In sum, none of the three restrictions in the Rule upon appellant's First Amendment rights can be sustained in the circumstances of this case. There is no finding that appellant's speech was misleading. Nor can we say that it was inherently

[ 455 U.S. Page 207]

     misleading, or that restrictions short of an absolute prohibition would not have sufficed to cure any possible deception. We emphasize, as we have throughout the opinion, that the States retain the authority to regulate advertising that is inherently misleading or that has proved to be misleading in practice. There may be other substantial state interests as well that will support carefully drawn restrictions. But although the States may regulate commercial speech, the First and Fourteenth Amendments require that they do so with care and in a manner no more extensive than reasonably necessary to further substantial interests. The absolute prohibition on appellant's speech, in the absence of a finding that his speech was misleading, does not meet these requirements.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Missouri is


The Advertisement above appeared in the January/February 1978 issue of the West End Word and was the basis for Count I of the Information.

The advertisement above appeared in the yellow pages of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. telephone directory for St. Louis Suburban West issued in February 1978, and was the basis for Count II of the Information.


609 S. W. 2d 411, reversed.


* Thomas Lumbard and Harry M. Philo filed a brief for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America as amicus curiae urging reversal.

Jerry L. Zunker filed a brief for the State Bar of Texas as amicus curiae.

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