Law groups unite to defeat ad threat

The UK's law societies have joined forces with the German Federal Bar in an attempt to scupper a European Commission directive which would allow comparative advertising between law firms.

The groups, which share an office in Brussels, have enlisted the support of UK MEP Philip Whitehead to table an amendment in the European Parliament to exempt lawyers from the advertising directive. First mooted in 1991, the proposed directive would allow solicitors to engage in advertising which “explicitly or by implication identifies a com- petitor or goods or services of the same kind being offered by a competitor”.

At the moment the directive only exempts the profession from the provision on comparative advertising if there is already a total ban on advertising for the profession in a country.

The law societies and German Federal Bar agree that individual law societies and Bar councils from each country should continue to rule on the issue rather than take direction from Europe.

It is the first joint action by the groups since their Brussels offices started sharing premises in June 1996.

Their view is also supported by the Bars and law societies of the 15 member states as well as by other European professions.

Whitehead's amendment was tabled on behalf of the British Medical Association and the law societies.

Brussels representative of the law societies of England and Wales, Patrick Oliver, is lobbying MEPs on the issue. He said: “People seem to understand the problem but it is always impossible to tell how they will vote.”

Former chairman of the Law Society's standards and guidance committee, Paul Venton, said: “I think decisions about comparative advertising should be under the jurisdiction of individual law societies.

“As a rule, comparative advertising is a bad thing because is encourages knocking copy and doesn't help the public to make an informed choice. There is much more to legal services than price: it should not be the only criterion.”