Legal Ethics

'Super lawyers' and 'rising stars' are warned about accolade advertising

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Lawyer advertising that mentions awards such as “Super Lawyers,” “Rising Stars” and “Best Lawyers” has spurred the filing of many complaints with a New Jersey committee that considers ethics of lawyer advertising.

The New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Lawyer Advertising has received so many grievances that it decided to issue a reminder: Lawyers may refer to such honors in their advertising “only when the basis for comparison can be verified” and the group bestowing the accolade “has made adequate inquiry into the fitness of the individual lawyer.” The New Jersey Law Journal (sub. req.) has a story on the May 18 notice (PDF).

The inquiry into fitness has to be more rigorous than a simple tally of years in practice and lack of disciplinary history, according to the committee. Honors that don’t involve a bona fide fitness inquiry include popularity contests that tally votes by telephone, text or email.

When an award meets this preliminary test, lawyers who want to use it must provide a description of the award methodology, either in the advertising or by reference to a “convenient, publicly available source,” the notice says.

When the name of the award includes a superlative such as “super,” “superior,” “best” or “leading,” the advertising “must state only that the lawyer was included in the list with that name, and not suggest that the lawyer has that attribute,” the list says.

The notice gives this example of language that could be included with a reference to the “Super Lawyers” accolade: “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 process detail.html. No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.”

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