Beware of the “Best” Lawyer: Rule 7.1 and Unsubstantiated Claims
Websites are important tools for almost all lawyers in New Jersey and around the country. Attorneys invest considerable time and money into creating attractive websites that provide information about their law firms, services offered, and practice areas of specialization. The vast majority of lawyers build their websites diligently and fairly in an effort to provide prospective and current clients with up-to-date and accurate information. Unfortunately, however, some attorneys use terms in their websites and firm descriptions that are geared toward gaining an unfair edge when it comes to describing their abilities. They will use superlative terms such as “best”, “top”, “most skilled”, “most experienced” and “most budget friendly”, etc., when describing their practices and credentials. This is most certainly NOT acceptable.
The Model Rules of Professional Conduct are echoed in the New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct, which states in Rule 7.1 that:
(a) A lawyer shall not make false or misleading communications about the lawyer, the lawyer’s services, or any matter in which the lawyer has or seeks a professional involvement. A communication is false or misleading if it:
(2) 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 Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; [or]
(3) compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless (i) the name of the comparing organization is stated, (ii) the basis for the comparison can be substantiated, and (iii) the communication includes the following disclaimer in a readily discernable manner: “No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey” (Emphasis added in bold)
Essentially, an attorney may not create unjustified expectations from her clients by describing herself as the “top criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey”, or “best DWI lawyer”, etc.; or by claiming to hold some special relationship with government officials such as prosecutors and judges. Such misrepresentation results in an unfair advantage over other attorneys who may be as skilled or even more skilled than that attorney. In fact, superlatives may only be used if they can be properly substantiated. For example, an attorney who bills herself as “the most inexpensive lawyer in NJ” may only publish that claim if she can actually prove it.
So, for the next time that you are looking for the “best” legal representation, make sure that you do so by researching the actual abilities of the many fine lawyers in your area, and not by relying on attorneys’ unsubstantiated claims.
For more information on the rules of professional conduct, check out the Model Rules of Professional Conduct nationwide.