Here’s the ABC News story:
An all-female law firm is turning heads in Chicago with a new billboard and a blunt message:
“Life’s Short. Get a Divorce.”
The billboard, sponsored by Fetman, Garland & Associates, Ltd., a firm that specializes in divorce cases, features the six-pack abs of a headless male torso and tanned female cleavage heaving forth from a black lace bra….
“It’s grotesque,” said John Ducanto, past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “It’s totally undignified and offensive.”
“It trivializes divorce and I think it’s absolutely disgusting,” Rick Tivers, a clinical social worker at the Center for Divorce Recovery in Chicago, told ABC News….
Ducanto called on the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee of Supreme Court of Illinois to sanction [lawyer Corri] Fetman…. But the ARDC’s deputy administrator James Grogan told ABC News that traditionally Illinois has been reluctant to sanction lawyers for anything short of false or misleading advertising….
“This has to be the Academy Award of bad taste,” [leading divorce lawyer Raoul] Felder told ABC News…. Karen Enright, president-elect of the Women’s Bar of Illinois, shared similar feelings. “It’s actually a disappointment to the profession and to the institution of marriage, which is something our community holds as sacred,” she said. “Our profession, and lawyers in general, have been under attack for advertisements similar to this and I think,” she said, pausing. “I think that it’s not in good taste.” …
“Lawyers don’t cause divorces. People cause divorces,” [Fetman replies]. “If you think somebody’s going to look at a billboard and go out and get a divorce as a result, you’re insulting the intelligence of people. If that’s the case, our next billboard is going to read, ‘Gimme Your Money.'” …
“Everybody’s got a pretty good sense of humor in this neighborhood,” said Greg Horan, director of operations for Gibson’s Steakhouse, one of the three restaurant/bars [near the billboard] …. “We don’t endorse it or anything, but sure, people will look up and get a chuckle out of it.”
As to the legal question, I think it’s unlikely that the state bar would punish the lawyer, and such punishment would probably be unconstitutional. It’s possible that the Court would uphold restrictions on lawyer advertising when the advertising is seen as reflecting poorly on the legal profession; see Florida Bar v. Went for It (1995). But I doubt that Went for It would go that far (and I’m not sure whether Went for It would be decided the same way today, given that Justice Thomas, one of the votes in the five-Justice majority, has since shifted to being far more protective of commercial speech rights).
As to the taste question, my tentative sense is that this is indeed in poor taste, though on the other hand it is pretty clearly a joke — maybe it’s not much different from other humor that makes light of sad situations.
Thanks to George Weiss for the pointer.