Ethics and Personal Lawyer Advertising

Today we take lawyer advertising as a given. Turn to the attorney section of the Yellow Pages and you will see hundreds of ads offering different legal services. Drive down a highway and you’ll probably see signs advertising personal injury lawyers. Believe it or not, there was a time when lawyers could not advertise. It was banned by the American Bar Association. In 1908, all legal advertising was prohibited by the publication of the ABA’s Professional Ethics. The ABA felt advertising demeaned the legal profession. Ironically, some famous lawyers advertised. Abraham Lincoln used both letters and newspaper ads to solicit potential clients!

In 1977, the United States Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to prohibit lawyer advertising. In Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, the court determined that lawyer advertising was protected free speech under the First Amendment, so long as it adhered to certain ethical guidelines. After the Supreme Court’s decision, the ABA drafted provisions to govern lawyer advertising.

You may be wondering why I am giving a history lesson on lawyer advertising. We have said it often; an informed client is our best client. However, sometimes with lawyer advertising, especially with personal injury lawyer advertising, it can be difficult to be informed. The ABA laws governing lawyer advertising are partially directed to protect the legal consumer from false claims or misrepresentations about a lawyer’s services. Still, many lawyers push the envelope with advertising and lawyer ethics. You see it all the time. Lawyers advertise that they will not settle for anything but top dollar, or they will take the case to court. Just recently I read an article about a motorcyclist injured in an accident in Missouri. The victim’s lawyer recommended that they settle for the $50,000 the insurance company offered. The victim sustained $100,000 in medical bills and $20,000 in lost wages. Because the victim settled, they couldn’t bring another suit to recover the medical bills from the insurance company. This lawyer held himself out to be an experienced personal injury lawyer that wouldn’t settle for anything but top dollar. This lawyer’s actions and advertisements were deeply unethical.

If you have been injured in Vermont or New Hampshire because of another’s careless actions, it is vital to do your research when shopping for a lawyer to represent your claim. If you speak to an attorney, ask if they will give you the names of past clients. Ask about the attorney’s record in the courtroom. If their ads say they never settle for top dollar, yet they have never tried a case in a courtroom, they are not being honest with their advertising. Without a successful track record in the courtroom, insurance companies have no reason to give a victim what is deserved. Insurance companies know that unless there is an actual threat of going to court, there is nothing a lawyer can do to increase a settlement offer. Don’t be fooled by advertising. The biggest and brightest ad doesn’t mean you will get the best and brightest lawyer.

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