Posted on Jun 17, 2006
Lawyers' misleading ads overruled
By MICHAEL BEEBE
News Staff Reporter
Attorneys' TV ads like this one set in a courtroom will have to be changed under new rules the state plans to adopt in September.
Say goodbye to William Shatner hawking the services of lawyers on TV.
Ditto to lawyers who use catchy nicknames like Jim "The Hammer" Shapiro, the Rochester attorney suspended for false advertising and soliciting a client still in a coma.
And you don't have to worry about seeing the oversized head of your local personal injury lawyer popping up on your computer screen.
Bans on computer pop-ups, misleading testimonials and catchy nicknames are part of sweeping revisions of advertising guidelines set for adoption by the state's Unified Court System.
But the bane of most motorists, those ubiquitous billboards with the faces of personal injury lawyers looking down upon major highways, goes unaddressed in the new directives.
However, lawyers who use billboards and other means of advertising to solicit clients will have to clean up their claims, limit their boasts and stick to the services they offer.
"These new rules will help regulate lawyer advertising so that consumers are protected against inappropriate solicitations or potentially misleading ads, as well as overly aggressive marketing," the state's chief administrative judge, Jonathan Lippman, said as the regulations were released.
Eugene F. Pigott Jr., the former Erie County attorney who is presiding justice of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester, said the changes are long overdue.
"It became quite obvious that what was supposed to be something advising the public of the services available in a legal firm had now washed over to a total solicitation," he said.
Among practices also banned by the new rules, approved for public comment this week by Pigott and the three other presiding justices of the Appellate Division, are these:
Using testimonials by current clients.
Using claims that create an expectation of results or compare a lawyer's services with other attorneys'.
Saying that "no fee will be charged if no money is recovered" without disclosing that clients will be responsible for other charges no matter what the outcome. Pigott said the rules, by necessity, are directed at the aggressive advertising done by personal injury attorneys who appear on roadsides, phone books and television airwaves.
"All the lawyers who do matrimonial, or estate, or other types of law are being tarred by the same brush, by these overly aggressive attorneys," he said. "It's not fair, it's not a fair characterization, it's not what most lawyers do."
Besides restricting what lawyers can say to solicit clients, the new rules also lay down stricter guidelines on when attorneys can approach potential clients after serious accidents.
Lawyers pursuing clients for personal injury or wrongful death claims now will have to wait at least 30 days after an accident, under the new rules, unless there are court deadlines. Then a lawyer has to wait 15 days.
Besides banning actors like Shatner from hawking firms, the new rules also will prohibit the practice of lawyers appearing in courtrooms during ads.
Local attorney William Mattar, whose "Hurt in a Car" ads appear frequently on local television, nearly always appears in a courtroom setting.
All future ads also have to be filed with the local attorney disciplinary committee for review.
The new rules, based on recommendations by the New York State Bar and a committee appointed by the administrative board of the state courts, will have a 90-day public comment period before their scheduled adoption on Sept. 15.