Republican women in office say Louisiana’s GOP could do more to attract, support candidates

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, addresses fellow lawmakers in the Louisiana Legislature.

Nailing lawyers who represent injured people against business and insurance companies was a main theme of last year’s legislative session and a secondary melody in the past few annual gatherings.

Though no studies show even a casual connection between advertising and the number of lawsuits filed, legislators spent much of their time trying to rid the air of broadcast commercials and highway billboards of lawyers seeking clients who had car wrecks. In fact, clipping attorney ads was “about all they talked about, at least at first,” recalled a participant on the task force that drafted the 2020 legislation that changed Louisiana’s legal system.

About a half dozen bills were filed to substantially end lawyer advertising, two of which landed on the governor’s desk.

They were kind of companions to the sweeping legislation — pushed by the insurance industry — that limits litigation by injured Louisiana residents on the theory that fewer lawsuits would lower the cost of the more expensive automobile insurance policies, which it hasn’t.

One of the attorney advertising bills that reached the governor’s desk was vetoed. The other was signed but its enforcement was postponed by the Louisiana Supreme Court because it’s the high court that tells the legal profession what to do, not the legislative branch.

A third instrument, however, will end up making significant changes.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 57 of the 2020 Regular Legislative Session asked the high court to consider a lawyer advertisement review recognition program, please.

Asked nicely, the high court last week issued a set of new guidelines.

It’s good enough for Slidell Sen. Sharon Hewitt, who sponsored the less confrontational resolution than the bills her Republican colleagues had pursued.

“I’m very pleased with what the Supreme Court did,” Hewitt said last week. One ramification of the high court’s orders is that lawyers will know “what you can and cannot do” in commercials, she added.

Hewitt did start out looking to tightly restrict lawyer advertising, like her Republican colleagues. She ran into a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued back when the now retired oilfield engineer was in high school.

In the early 1970s, John R. Bates and Van O’Steen formed a law firm in Phoenix to represent people of modest means. Their business model required them to find clients through advertising. The State Bar of Arizona said no. The U.S. Supreme Court said yes.

Most lawyers see themselves as Atticus Finch, fighting for the greater good and receiving nothing more than the grateful people in the balcony standing as they pass. But the law, like most things, is really a business that can’t run on the periodic delivery of hickory nuts.

Agreed, the gleeful faces of car wreck victims with big money judgments do seem a little too celebratory. But dealing with recalcitrant insurers, who don’t often act like good neighbors in times of need, and doctors who want to be paid up front, maybe a little jubilee isn’t unwarranted.

It’s not like advertising hasn’t relied for years on overly optimistic pictures.

For instance, what is adult ulcerative colitis? The commercials make it seem like the malady is an avenue to get a drug that opens the doors to a fun-filled social life with very pretty and ethnically diverse people.

That kind of ad does not really explain anything about a complex medical condition.

Hewitt’s resolution set in motion a system where the Louisiana State Bar will make it easy for consumers to vet the claims of lawyers, starting Jan. 1, 2022.

The high court ordered up a searchable database of all attorney advertisements. “This newly-implemented searchable public database, along with the additionally enacted rule changes, will offer the ability to review compliance with rules governing attorney advertising in Louisiana, and will provide a safeguard against false or misleading advertising for the public,” Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice John L. Weimer said in a prepared statement.

Additionally, all the lawyer ads, starting Jan. 1, will have to include a disclaimer such as “Results May Vary” or “Past Results are not a Guarantee of Future Success.”

The new rules won’t prescribe what language a lawyer uses but makes it easier to check the claims.

Hewitt acknowledges that “it won’t get lawyers from standing on top big rigs,” but the new rules will allow consumers the ability to tell which ads have been vetted and “approved and which claims haven’t,” she said.

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