I have previously written about how some attorneys continue to ignore bar standards encouraging firms to show basic professionalism and decorum in advertising, including truly bizarre pitches for clients. The vast majority of lawyers show great restraint in deference to the standards of our profession. But there remains a minority of lawyers to have joined a race to the bottom in creating juvenile, unprofessional advertisements like Bryan Wilson in Texas. Wilson has opted for an obnoxious advertisement showing himself screaming about being the “Texas Law Hawk.” While many relish lawyers demeaning themselves and find this type of ad funny, it is a disgrace to the profession and no doubt an embarrassment to Texas Tech University where he acquired his legal education. Apparently, the lessons on professionalism did not stick with young Wilson despite reportedly graduating at the top of his class.
Wilson, 29, screams into a camera that he is “Bryan Wilson! Texas Law Hawk!” He appears to be modeling his law firm on the stereotype of a used car dealer or low-rent pitchman. As with many who pander to the lowest common denominator, it has brought him the notoriety that he so craves. His ad has garnered more than half a million views.
His law firm site proclaims that he is “Loud and proud of his Texas roots.” That much is obvious. He is also a loud and rather pathetic insult to the entire profession.
The problem is that we have to protect grotesque figures like Wilson in order to protect free speech. Many of us agreed with the Supreme Court that the regulation and prohibition on certain types of advertising was a denial of free speech. Law schools and bar associations have worked to convince attorneys to maintain the professionalism expected of lawyers and most do. Then there are the Bryan Wilsons who clearly care little for the profession or its values.
The standards for legal advertisements have been evolving from the time of a virtual prohibition (which clearly denies free speech) to what in some states is now a race to the bottom. Casino has in the past been leading that race to the bottom in his adverts. Georgia is one of the states that has abandoned the attempt to enforce standards of good taste and professionalism in advertisements.
It may be time that the bar associations need to develop a review process that publicly rates lawyers based on their professional standing, including the propriety and professionalism of their ads. While we may not be able take their licenses, we can inform the public of the lack professionalism of some lawyers and denounce those like Wilson to belittle our profession. Bar associations in my view have an institutional right to ranking lawyers based on their public conduct and adherence to professional standards. I also believe that aspects of Wilson’s ads raise serious ethical questions that could be brought before the bar. He appears to give legal advice on things like refusing to take breathalyzers. The blanket advice would likely be harmful or disadvantageous for some suspects.
The state bar rules include the following:
RULE 7.02 COMMUNICATIONS CONCERNING A LAWYER’S SERVICES
(a) A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the qualifications or the services of any lawyer or firm. A communication is false or misleading if it:
(1) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;
(2) is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate these rules or other law;
(3) compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be substantiated by reference to verifiable, objective data;
(4) states or implies that the lawyer is able to influence improperly or upon irrelevant grounds any tribunal, legislative body, or public official; or
(5) designates one or more specific areas of practice in an advertisement in the public media or in a written solicitation unless the advertising lawyer is competent to handle legal matters in each such area of practice.
It is hard to say whether these advertisements by Wilson crossed the line but it is certainly worth a review by the Texas bar. Of course, no one can prevent an attorney like Wilson from making a complete ass of himself. However, these ads combine sweeping legal claims with highly unprofessional communications. Surely someone in the Texas bar might want to take a closer look to consider whether young Wilson should pursue more suitable lines of work like pitching Demolition Derbies or selling Sham Wow packages.