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Lawyers riled over advertising ban

Lawyers riled over advertising ban

The sometimes derided "ambulance chasers" of the legal profession have become the centre of a national consultation between government and lawyers.

THE sometimes derided “ambulance chasers” of the legal profession have become the centre of a national consultation between government and lawyers.

Personal injury law firms are facing a national advertising ban after the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General asked the National Legal Profession Taskforce to consider the content and manner of advertising for personal injury legal services.

But the Law Council of Australia, the peak representing lawyers nationally, says lawyers should be spared this restriction.

The Law Council said today it is opposed to any blanket ban on advertising by personal injury lawyers, arguing they are unnecessary and “amount to little more than an attack on a victim’s right to information”.

“It is in the best interests of the public that personal injury advertising is carefully regulated rather than banned, and the Law Council will be making a strong and detailed submission to the taskforce which will set out clear reasons why this should be the case,” Law Council president John Corcoran said.

The NSW government has had advertising restrictions since 2005, but some firms have evaded the regulations with disclaimers and pop-up permission screens on their websites.

As the Sydney Morning Herald reported, the NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos has said such practices are “predatory, deceptive and sully the reputation of those professional and responsible law firms who make up their greater part of the legal services industry”.

He said some firms continue to advertise in print, on radio, online and over the phone in defiance of the laws.

In some cases they use middlemen who offer “compensation claims” advice to prospective clients, he said.

“Some of these law firms … in my opinion, bring the whole profession into disrepute,” Hatzistergos said.

But the Law Council’s Corcoran says personal injury lawyers provide a “vital service” to vulnerable people.

“Legal aid rarely extends to civil claims and injured people often rely on lawyers to act on a conditional fee basis to gain any compensation. Banning advertising in these areas makes it more difficult for injured people to find a lawyer willing to assist them,” he said.

He said it is appropriate to regulate advertising to ensure it meets high professional standards in the legal sector. “However, wholesale bans on advertising by lawyers is an over-reaction and should not occur.”

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