The History of Lawyer Advertising

In my many years of practice, and even before that, I’ve seen hundreds, probably even thousands of examples of lawyer advertising. Even non-lawyers are familiar with lawyer advertising because it’s found pretty much anywhere professional services advertise themselves.
Legal marketing relies on some form of lawyer advertising to get your name out there and grab your clients’ attention. Your lawyer advertising is your hook, and then once your client is caught, your legal marketing methods reel them in. I’ve got an article that explains the difference between marketing and sales, but we’re here to discuss the history of lawyer advertising.

The History of Lawyer Advertising

There was a time when lawyers weren’t allowed to advertise. Legal marketing was unheard of and word-of-mouth was pretty much your only option to drum up new business besides the name on your door. Way back in the day, there was even the concept of the “family lawyer” who had served your father’s legal needs, and maybe even your grandfather’s needs.

All of this longevity and personal connection changed in 1977 when two Arizona lawyers decided they’d start advertising “low prices” to drum up more business among a sea of high-fee lawyers. Prior to this, the best way to find a lawyer was to go talk to one, or know someone who already used a certain law firm.

When these ads hit the papers other lawyers went up in arms. They wanted to put a stop to it because suddenly their fees looked outrageous. Unless a client tracked down fee quotes from multiple lawyers there was really no way to tell if they were ripping you off or not.

The bar association tried to ban the new lawyer advertising as well. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court before they finally ruled that “yes,” lawyers could advertise. What followed was a long history of badly designed advertisements, yelling matches, stereotypes, and poorly developed legal marketing strategies.

From Bus Benches to Cell Phones

Early lawyer advertising was limited to where other professional services advertised. Lawyers back in the ’70s and ’80s had to figure out this new concept of legal marketing and come up with the first legal marketing strategies. State bar associations soon found they had to regulate lawyer advertising to avoid false claims, unfair competition, and other issues that were starting to rise from the lawyer advertising movement.

At the time, static ads were all the rage. Public bus benches, billboards, and the Yellow Pages were where similar professional services advertised, so lawyer advertising followed suit. This was the birth of the giant yelling lawyer ads you still see today when flipping through the directories and plastered on buildings.

As TVs continued to surge in popularity within the American home as a source of information, and radio continued its reign as a news provider, lawyer advertising stretched out there as well. Now the yelling was legitimate – we had lawyer ads that screamed for “victims” to “call us NOW!”

With each new piece of technology that another industry finds as a viable marketing venue, lawyer advertising has followed. The Internet has been the most influential technology to hit the legal marketing world, opening up several new methods and reaching millions more clients than before.

Lawyer Advertising: The Internet and Beyond

Today nearly all the hype in legal marketing revolves around the Internet. Social media has replaced the office consultation in some cases, banner ads replaced bus benches and billboards, and online lawyer directories have surpassed the Yellow Pages (at least in its traditional print mode).

While most of the current legal marketing strategies place your lawyer advertising venues online, there’s still many options to consider offline that are not only beneficial, but may be overlooked by your competition. Don’t forget that legal marketing knows no bounds, nearly any venue that’s appropriate for advertising is fair game for lawyer advertising.

Ben is a nationally recognized expert in attorney marketing and the owner of Great Legal Marketing.

Most attorneys start their firms assuming that being a really, really good attorney should, in and of itself, be a marketing advantage. Those attorneys believe that joining a whole bunch of committees and putting their name in lawyer directories is “marketing,” and they never bother to ask if there is a better way.

Attorneys are catching on, however, and those who succeed learn to leverage their current resources to create effective (and ethical) marketing. What they discover isn’t a magic pill or silver bullet but a different approach to marketing that your competitors haven’t considered.

If you want a peek at what successful attorneys use to market their practice, the HERO Starter Kit is your logical next step.

We’ve put together a FREE (and potentially life-changing) kit for solo and small firm attorneys that will show you a better way to reach potential clients and get them excited to call your firm. Request your HERO Starter Kit from Great Legal Marketing!

by Ben Glass

Ben is a nationally recognized expert in attorney marketing and the owner of Great Legal Marketing.


  • Ben is a nationally recognized expert in attorney marketing and the owner of Great Legal Marketing.