The Business Litigation Blog

A Legal "Specialist" Often Specializes in Bar Reprimands

In many states, attorneys must follow very strict advertising rules.  These rules often require that attorneys not overstate their qualifications or the likelihood of success in the event of litigation.  For instance, if an attorney claims to be a “specialist” in a certain area of the law, that attorney often has to hold a special license or certification in that area, or the attorney may be committing a violation of the state bar’s rules on advertising by misrepresenting themselves.

“Best” Attorney

While advertisers often use terms such as the “best” or “superior” and similar descriptors, attorneys must be careful with the terms that they use in describing themselves to potential clients.  Advertisers in most industries can get away with “puffery,” which is when one company says generically that it is the “best” or is better than its competitors in some general way.  

However, lawyers usually cannot use “puffery” because it is believed to be too likely to influence potential clients or confuse them.  In one case, an attorney in North Carolina was reprimanded under the state bar’s legal malpractice rules because she said that she was the best auto injury attorney .”  The state bar held that such a statement was a violation of the state rules of conduct because the attorney compared her services to her competitors when that comparison could not be factually substantiated.  So, the state bar meant that in order to make a claim about being the best, it had to be based on criteria that could be judged.  Perhaps if the attorney never lost a case, she could then say something about that since it is quantifiable. But, by vaguely saying she was the “best,” the bar found the advertisement to be unfair.

“Specialist” in Bar Violations

Many states require attorneys to either not state that they are a specialist or are “certified” or any similar statement about their credentials or experience unless the attorney actually holds a certificate in that area of the law.  If an attorney does not hold a specialization or certification in a given area of the law, then the attorney cannot indicate as much in any advertisements.  If an attorney does have significant experience in a certain area and does “specialize” in it, to use layman terms, the attorney could say something to the effect that he or she has experience in this area or some other description that avoids potential confusion regarding the licenses or certifications that the attorney actually holds.  

A “Settlement You Deserve”

Attorneys also must be careful when discussing how often they “win” cases, settle cases with large payouts to clients or other success rates that may influence potential clients.  Attorneys must state disclaimers that not all clients will win or that not all will win major monetary payments.  Clients should be able to make rational decisions about who they want to represent them in litigation, so attorney advertisements should be as straightforward as possible. 

If you have questions about legal malpractice or attorney ethics, call or email the attorneys at the Patterson Law Firm for guidance. To learn more about the services we offer, visit pattersonlawfirm.com or call 312.223.1699.

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