Here in South Florida, it seems like we live in the capital of lawyer advertising, with significant TV and billboard advertising by lawyers for personal injury, divorce, criminal law and other areas of the law. You should be especially wary of using these advertisements as a basis for selecting your lawyer.
The Florida Bar has the Rules of Professional conduct that provide clear ethical standards for what is allowed in lawyer advertising. Nonetheless, there are many lawyer advertisements that greatly stretch what is permissible. For example, Rule 4-7.15 deals with “unduly manipulative or intrusive advertisements” by eliminating the use of an “authority figure” such as an actor portraying a police officer or a judge, or the voice or image of a celebrity or offers an economic incentive to employ the lawyer in question. There are strict prohibitions under Rule 4 -7.13 of “deceptive and inherently misleading advertisements.” For example, a lawyer’s advertisement is not allowed to provide “statements or information that can reasonably be interpreted by a prospective client as a prediction or guaranty of success or specific results.”
So why do lawyers advertise? The answer is simple: all studies show that lawyer advertising works and that advertisements talking about monetary results have the greatest impact for many people. The lawyers that do this type of advertising should be strictly avoided. There are good lawyers who choose to advertise, but your decision to hire a lawyer should come from a good referral and/or a well-known reputation, and your ability to evaluate whether or not that lawyer is the right lawyer for your case. You should research your prospective lawyers and interview them to make sure you are making the right choice. A good, ethical lawyer will not mind answering your questions and being compared to other lawyers in town.
Our law firm has been in town for a long time, approaching our 90th anniversary. We’ve never done any formal advertising on TV, billboard or otherwise. We have relied on referrals from current and former clients as well as friends in the community, and this is how clients get to our firm. We have significant experience handling personal injury cases, with well-regarded lawyers working directly with the clients on their cases. We have qualifications and a track record on cases that we can explain to our clients. You have a right to get this type of information from any lawyer that you choose to consult with.
In the past, I have served as the Chair of the Standing Committee on Advertising, as well as the Chair of the Florida Bar Professional Ethics Committee, that deals with many of these issues. There are objective questions that you can ask a lawyer you are interviewing, such as whether or not it is only the lawyer working on the case? How much paralegal involvement will occur? You should also ask your lawyer about his or her specific experience in dealing with your particular legal issue. You have a right to receive detailed answers to these important questions. An lawyer is an important professional partner to have to help get you through some of the challenges that can occur in life. Promises made during a commercial only go so far. Get the detailed information to make sure you are picking the right horse, so to speak.