Puzzling Attorney Advertising

I have my own practice to run and have no need to pick nits with other attorneys in Maryland or elsewhere over how they advertise. As a solo attorney, my natural inclination is towards sympathy particularly for solo practitioners who represent not corporate America at $425/hour or higher, but real people paying their own real money, usually without deducting it on form 1040 whereas corporations can almost always deduct legal fees on form 1120 or 1120S.

But when I see that a law firm that I have never heard of advertises itself on my OWN new companion website Pink Slip Bulletin claiming “unparalled [sic] results” or to be/employ “MD’s leading attorney” I just have to pause. I just don’t see how a law firm can claim to have “MD’s leading attorney” and to get “unparalle[le]d results.” Is there an objective basis for these claims? I am not going to name the firm as I don’t feel like getting sued, but I just wonder. I can think of maybe 10 lawyers who are arguably in the running for the title of “MD’s leading attorney” and those are in the end just a collective opinion.

The web page goes on to state that the attorneys at the firm have business school degrees and/or Masters degrees in Taxation, and “hence” they succeed in obtaining bigger dispositions for their clients in some cases.  (They used different words, I am substituting synonyms.)  Higher than what other judgments? Can this claim be objectively verified, not only that the attorneys have those degrees (assumed true that they have them) but that the possession of those degrees actually lands a larger number for their clients? I could believe that it’s more efficient to have that skill and that it may help in specific cases, but does it actually affect the outcome, rather than the efficiency or cost of getting the same outcome?

If an MBA or tax expert or certified valuation analyst is needed for a case, presumably that expert is also available as an expert witness to other attorneys who don’t have degrees, and any high-asset client who would need one would be able to fund one.  I think it would be like me saying that I could allegedly save a taxpayer more money in an audit (which I DON’T DON’T DON’T claim) because I had five tax courses in law school (which I did) and because I have participated in a variety of audits by the IRS and the Maryland Comptroller in different offices over a period of years (which I have). I don’t think I can make that claim, and I don’t.

Maryland Lawyers’ Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1 states:

A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it:(a) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;

(b) is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or

(c) compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.

You be the judge.  For the record, I am NOT Maryland’s leading attorney and I do NOT promise a higher net judgment than any other attorney – at all. And maybe that law firm CAN objectively prove that it employs/includes “MD’s leading attorney” and that its results both are unparall[el]ed and include higher awards for the clients specifically because of their non-law academic degrees or the content thereof. Maybe it’s actually accurate and capable of factual substantiation. Perhaps I am being unfair. You be the judge.

On Craigslist ads for legal services, I very often see attorneys holding themselves out as specialists, which is specifically prohibited under Rule 7.4(a) in Maryland since we do not have boards of specialty in this state for lawyers (we don’t even have continuing education requirements, a fact which may soon change.) I see other violations, such as attorney ads with no attorney name (Rule 7.2(d)) and the like. Don’t these lawyers think that Bar Counsel reads Craigslist? Sometimes there will be multiple ads obviously out of compliance in the same day. These ads raise a substantial question of the attorneys to practice and so I usually just send a friendly email warning them as a fellow member of the Bar that they may get called on their ads. I would hate to see especially a new practitioner get a disciplinary inquiry over something so small and so avoidable.

Mind you, I have my own clients and full life to handle and don’t troll other lawyers’ ads routinely, but sometimes it just hits a practicing lawyer hard in the face.

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