Sugarman on Super Lawyers Attorney Inclusion and other Advertising
When a reader picks up last month's issue of Boston Magazine at home or in a doctor's office, they will find a list of "Super Lawyers" in Massachusetts or New England in various areas of law, including in the field of personal injury. The list of "Super Lawyers" is compiled by a system that includes nomination by other attorneys. Super Lawyers is the newest of several lawyer peer recognition surveys that include Best Lawyers in America and Martindale-Hubbell. Martindale-Hubbell, the oldest of the three, began its lawyer rankings in 1896. Martindale-Hubbell ranks lawyers according to peer rating of adherence to ethical standards and legal ability. The rating system is explained here. The Martindale-Hubbell ratings were and still are published in a yearly multi-volume directory listing all United States lawyers arranged state-by-state. Lawyers are not charged for the listings but firms pay for firm listings. These listings consist of biographical information, legal practice areas and representative clients. Best Lawyers in America began about 25 years ago publishing peer review ratings of lawyers organized geographically and by legal practice area. Best Lawyers in America does not charge for inclusion in its yearly published ratings, but does market the multi-volume nationwide directory of lawyers having the "Best Lawyers" peer review rating. Super Lawyers, a publication of publisher Thomson Reuters, is a relative newcomer, beginning its peer review ratings in Massachusetts in 2004. Its selection can be found here, and is described as being limited to including no more that 5% of the lawyers in the state. All three of these peer review rating surveys have on-line versions that make them much more accessible than the older style directory books of both Martindale-Hubbell and Best Lawyers of America. Like Martindale-Hubbell and Best Lawyers of America, Super Lawyers does not charge lawyers to be either listed or peer rated. However, Super Lawyers does not publish a nationwide directory in book form. Super Lawyers' innovation was pairing the peer review ratings with lawyer advertising placed in local or regional magazines such as Boston Magazine. The attraction of this form of advertising is both its public accessibility and longevity of the magazines in doctors', dentists', hospital, barbers' and many other waiting rooms. Super Lawyers, while recognizing attorneys through a ratings process, is at its core (and perhaps more than its predecessors) a publication that sells advertising to lawyers. The process goes something like this: After a lawyer is nominated, the publisher of Super Lawyers reaches out to the nominated lawyers to sell them advertising. Instead of just being included in a list of "Super Lawyers", for a fee you can be featured more prominently. This is true of many Best Doctors in America features and the like that we see on airplane and other magazines. Because publications like Super Lawyers blend professional ratings with advertising, it can be very difficult for a person--particularly one who has been seriously injured and is looking for quality legal representation--to make an informed decision about a lawyer or a firm's credentials. For example, a law firm that has any one lawyer nominated in any one area of law may advertise in Super Lawyers as specializing in a totally different area of the law. And of course there are many talented lawyers who, for whatever reason, are not included in Super Lawyers at all. So why do law firms like ours purchase advertising space in publications like Super Lawyers? Part of the answer is that attorneys are governed by strict ethical rules on advertising and solicitation of business, and publications like Super Lawyers are one of the few relatively dignified ways of letting the public know about a firm's strengths. For example, our ethical rules strictly prohibit lawyers from contacting or having someone else contact people who are physically injured and undergoing medical treatment. Despite this rule, many of our clients come to us having received such solicitations in the mail or otherwise from other lawyers. Advertising in places like Super Lawyers is one of the only tools available to encourage victims of negligence to seek experienced, quality legal representation, whether through our firm or one of the other qualified lawyers and firms in the area. One should be cautious of lawyers or firms who solicit business directly from injured people when there are rules limiting these activities in the Commonwealth. The bottom line is that while an appearance in Super Lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell, or Best Lawyers in America may be an indicator that a lawyer garners some respect among other lawyers, the true credentials and qualifications of a lawyer are not found on plaques on walls, letters after a lawyer's name, inclusion in a magazine or organization, or any other accolade. They are not found in dollar signs posted on websites, or in overtures made to injured people after an accident. The true measure of a personal injury lawyer is found in the track record and experience of that lawyer and the firm of which he or she is a part. Once that measure is taken, as with any professional relationship, the question becomes a personal one: whether, sitting across a table from you, the lawyer is someone you can trust to be an advocate for you.