By now you certainly must have heard about the ruling by the New Jersey Committee on Idiocy (a/k/a Lawyer Advertising) outlawing the use of “Super Lawyer” or “Best Lawyer in America” designations in your legal marketing materials. Basically, their ruling continues the insanity that all lawyers are created equal – meaning they are equally smart, ethical, talented, client-focused; and provide the same quality of service and legal product to their clients. AMEN.
The ruling in question holds that such designations violate NJ’s Rules of Professional Conduct because it allows the comparison of one lawyer to another. And heaven knows, brothers and sisters, we cannot allow that right here in River City.
According to the Committee’s opinion:
“Advertising which promotes a designation such as "Super Lawyer" or "Best Lawyer in America" does not comply with RPC 7.1(a)(3). RPC 7.1(a)(3) states that a communication is misleading if it "compares the lawyer’s service with other lawyers’ services." Use of superlative designations by lawyers is inherently comparative and thus, not within the approved ambit of New Jersey’s Rules of Professional Conduct.” (emphasis mine)
Yet, the Committee goes on to say:
“In contrast, other ratings organizations such as Martindale-Hubbell, which rates attorneys AV, BV or CV, are directed toward other attorneys. Martindale notes that not all attorneys or firms are rated and that most attorneys as they become more experienced move from a CV towards an AV rating. These ratings are familiar to other lawyers and likely have minimal recognition to the public.” (emphasis mine)
Just another example of how bar associations are often out of touch with the real world. Most lawyers are talented enough to translate their “AV” rating into a language well understood by the public. For example, “Ms. Smith has received the highest rating from Martindale-Hubbell for legal ability and integrity.” Many, many variations on that message can be found by doing a simple Google search. I know the “public” can be pretty stupid on occasion, but give me a break. Lawyers use the rating to distinguish (do I dare use the word “compare”?) themselves to other lawyers. And there is NOTHING WRONG with that.
All three rating systems use variations on a peer-review involving lawyers (not from the same firm) rating other lawyers. So, why the distinction between Martindale and the others? Now I don’t for a minute think that it has anything to do with the fact that Martindale is a New Jersey-based company, and Best Lawyers (Aiken, SC) and Super Lawyers (Minneapolis, MN) are not. Nah, there must be another reason. Don’t get me wrong I’m a big proponent of Martindale’s ratings and often advise clients on how to best pursue one.
Irrespective of the bizarre result obtained by the Committee in distinguishing two rating systems from another, what is wrong with recognizing that not all lawyers are the same. Krista Baker at LawyerCoach.net has a post on this ruling that sums it up very well:
‘What exactly does the legal profession want people to believe? Either all lawyers are equal or they’re not. The very act of allowing competition within an industry means that some lawyers will emerge as "better" than their peers.”
And that, my friends, is better for the public that the bar associations claim they are trying to protect.
Folks, this ruling is simply bizarre, and idiotic.