Super Lawyers and Legal Ethics

by May 23, 2016

The New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Attorney Advertising has  issued a warning about “Super Lawyers,” “Rising Stars,” Best Lawyers,” “Superior Attorney,” “Leading Lawyer” and “Top-Rated Counsel” designations.

A lawyer may state that he or she was included in the list called “Super Lawyers” or “The Best Lawyers in America,” but  must not describe the lawyer as being a “Super Lawyer” or being the “Best Lawyer.

Acting on numerous grievances regarding attorney advertising of awards, the state bar cited Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1, which requires that additional language be displayed to provide explanation and context.

“Super” awards are suspect when:

  • The lawyer “wins” the award when enough people email, telephone, or text their vote.
  • The award is a “reward” for joining an organization.
  • The lawyer participates on the conferring organization’s website.
  • A lawyer can enhance his or her “rating” by endorsing other lawyers, and being endorsed in return
  • A lawyer responds to questions from the public about legal matters on the organization’s website.

Lawyers may not advertise receipt of such awards unless, as a threshold matter, the conferring organization made an individualized inquiry into the professional fitness of the lawyer.

When an award, honor, or accolade meets this description, a lawyer must:

  1. Provide a description of the standard or methodology on which the award, honor, or accolade is based, either in the advertising itself or by reference to a “convenient, publicly available source.”
  2. Include the name of the comparing organization that issued the award.
  3. Must include this disclaimer “in a readily discernible manner: ‘No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.”‘

For example, a reference to the Super Lawyers accolade must provide:

“Jane Doe was selected to the 2016 Super Lawyers list. The Super Lawyers list is issued by Thomson Reuters. A description of the selection methodology can be found at www.superlawvers.com/about/selection process detail.html. No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.”

A copy of the notice can be found here.

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