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New Jersey: The Kryptonite of SuperLawyers

SuperLawyers may prevail over clever adversaries and tough judges. But they're no match for Kryptonite, er, the New Jersey Supreme Court ethics panel. As this article, "Ethics Crusaders Crush SuperLawyers" ( 7/24/06)reports, on July 19, the New Jersey ethics panel ruled that lawyers are prohibited from advertising their inclusion in the SuperLawyer publications and taking part in the selection process. The article reports on some of the concerns that the ethics panel raised with respect to advertising a SuperLawyer affiliation:

The Committee on Attorney Advertising says in Opinion 39 that ads trumpeting a lawyer's inclusion in the two rankings violate the rule of professional conduct against suggestions that one lawyer is better than another. Such ads also create unjustified expectations about results a lawyer can achieve, another ethics no-no, the opinion says. "When a potential client reads such advertising and considers hiring a 'super' attorney, or the 'best' attorney, the superlative designation induces the client to feel that the results can be achieved by this attorney are likely to surpass those that can be achieved by a mere 'ordinary' attorney," the opinion says.  "This simplistic use of a media-generated sound bite clearly has the capacity to materially mislead the public," the opinion says.

A number of bloggers have lambasted the New Jersey decision, even those who think that publications like SuperLawyers are meaningless. Larry Bodine comments here that:

I don't defend the publishers of "Super" and "Best" lawyers.  They are advertising predators who make themselves rich as Croesus by tricking lawyers out of their money.  Most law firm marketers know to steer their firms away from this claptrap.  But a new sucker is christened with a J.D. every day.

But the publishers have a right to make a buck.  More importantly, lawyers have the right to market themselves in any honest way that will bring in clients. In America, lawyers have the right to be stupid. So does any other business that advertises, including the fools that blow $1 million to advertise in the quickly-forgotten Superbowl.  For the courts to pinpoint a particular marketing technique as "unethical" is a waste of its time and an insult to the U.S. Constitution (see Amendment No. 1).

Unlike Bodine, Monica Bay at Common Scold likes lists, but she too agrees that the New Jersey ruling was boneheaded. And Evan Schaeffer at Legal Underground asks what the ruling means for Martindale Hubbell:

Here's one question that leaps to mind: what about the Martindale-Hubbell rankings? Will those also be verboten in New Jersey? Apparently, the answer is no: the opinion by the New Jersey ethics panel makes a distinction between Martindale-Hubbell, which is primarily marketed to lawyers, and Superlawyers and Best Lawyers in America, which are often marketed to consumers. In addition, Martindale-Hubbell's AV, BC, and CV-type rankings don't mean much to the public, according to the panel.

Personally, I don't put much stock in beauty contests like SuperLawyers. Most of the time, they're dominated by large firms anyway; most of those firms wouldn't handle consumer matters anyway, and most consumers couldn't afford to hire those attorneys. Still, like my colleagues, I don't see the need to regulate lawyers who tout their SuperLawyers' listing. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 25, 2006 at 05:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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