The old rules were, lawyers weren’t allowed to advertise. If you needed the services of a lawyer, you would presumably hire one you knew, perhaps a guy you played golf with. In 1977, the Supreme Court struck down this limitation in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona.
I advertise. In a sense, I think it is my duty to advertise. Not everyone who needs a lawyer knows one. I feel I should let people know that I am a practicing lawyer, and what my specialty is.
As a sort of “side-effect” of advertising, I get what I call “dial-a-lawyer” calls. Somebody has a problem relating to an estate – usually someone else’s. They feel they were done out of something they had coming to them. I listen, feeling like a legal “Dear Abby,” try to tease out the legal issues from the emotional ones, and suggest approaches. I may explain the difference between a counseling oriented lawyer like myself and a litigator. Often, I can point them in the direction of someone who does probate litigation. Even if such conversations are unlikely to advance my practice directly, I feel that I have done a good thing in guiding someone to a person who can help them.
Besides giving me an opportunity to be helpful, “dial-a-lawyer” calls often re-affirm my counseling-oriented philosophy of practice. Unfortunately, some lawyers, (one assumes, inadvertently) help their clients to do things that are not really in the clients’ or their families’ best interest. I suspect this stems from a focus on creating a functioning legal document. But a will or a trust may be perfectly legal in form, while embodying a scheme that is likely to make people unhappy, without advancing the client’s real goals very much. I believe that a lawyer should counsel clients, not only about how to accomplish what they plan to do, but on whether what they are planning is likely to work the way they expect.
Of course, the calls I really like to get on my ads, are those from people who want to register for my workshop – my next one is on May 15. I get enough of those to justify the ads. This is a good thing. I don’t think I am really cut out to be an advice columnist.
By the way, there really is a service called “Dial-a-Lawyer.” It is run by the Massachusetts Bar Association, of which I am a member, and I sometimes volunteer on it.
And, if you have a question about an estate plan – yours or someone else’s – please feel free to call me at (508) 429-8888.