U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

The Connecticut Bar Association and the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee are staying neutral on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s push for more government oversight of attorney advertising.

Tuesday’s report from the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform said television and Internet advertisements by attorneys suing drug and medical device companies should be regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Chamber believes some of the ads are “unfair or deceptive.” The report specifically cited ads presented as a medical or health alerts.

In Connecticut, attorney advertising is overseen by the Statewide Grievance Committee.

Kerry O’Connell, assistant bar counsel for the committee, said the committee is taking no formal position on the Chamber’s request. “We do not normally take a position on proposed legislation,” she said. “We just do not insert ourselves into the rule-making unless we are asked by the judicial branch for an opinion.”

Complaints against lawyer advertisements involving drug makers are almost nonexistent, O’Connell said. If the committee got a complaint, “there would have to be very clear proof that the ad is misleading related to the science,” she added.

O’Connell said her office gets between two and four lawyer advertising complaints a year. The most common involve lawyers who file complaints against peers for making claims about the number of cases they’ve won or the amount of damages they’ve secured. The committee asks attorneys to substantiate the data in those instances.

About the same time the Chamber began advocating against the ads, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte sent letters to state bar associations urging them to block lawyers from airing ads that might cause patients to stop prescribed medical treatments.

The CBA addressed Goodlatte’s letter at its Oct. 18 meeting of its Professional Ethics Committee. According to committee chairwoman Marcy Stovall, the committee voted by consensus that the issue would be better addressed by the American Bar Association because of its national scope.

Several Connecticut attorneys said they believe the government should stay out of regulating lawyer advertising.

“I think regulating ads is a terrible idea,” said Jamie Sullivan, a partner with Howard, Kohn, Sprague & FitzGerald in Hartford. “It is also probably unconstitutional.”

Sullivan added that the Chamber is probably calling for regulation because they want to “over-regulate a profession that they are at odds with.” Sullivan added the Chamber has viewed “trial lawyers as detrimental to business interests,” especially due to the Chamber’s support of big pharma companies.

Similarly, attorney Robert Reardon said the FDA and FTC should not be in the business of regulating lawyer advertising. “This is a lawyer problem,” said Reardon, a partner with The Reardon Law Firm in New London. “The lawyers are obligated to regulate their own when it comes to advertising to make sure it is fair and truthful.”

Reardon added that attorneys should be held to a higher standard by their own professional organizations” because of the close professional relationships and trust factor they have with their clients.

Sullivan and Reardon both said they have no problem with the state bar punting to the ABA because of the national scope. They also said their respective firms do not advertise.

Reardon said it’s important not to jump to conclusions on all lawyer advertising.

“I don’t think we are capable of making a broad judgment on all ads,” Reardon said. “There are some people out there who display ads in a fair and thoughtful manner and some that do not.”