By now you have surely seen the billboards and television ads of some law firms showing folks who claim to be clients proclaiming, “My lawyer got me (insert large $ number).” Have you wondered why you hadn’t seen these types of ads in years past? Here’s the rest of the story for you.
Before January 2013, client testimonials were not permitted by the Florida Supreme Court’s rules on attorney advertising. The reasoning prohibiting such testimonials is obvious. One client’s result does not by any means guarantee similar results for other clients. All cases stand alone and are unique.
But in January of this year, the Supreme Court of Florida issued a new opinion revamping the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and established an entirely different set of new rules on permissible advertising by attorneys in Florida. Rule 4-7.13 says “client testimonials” are deceptive and inherently misleading unless:
1. The client makes a testimonial the client is qualified to to evaluate;
2. The testimonial is the client’s actual experience;
3. The testimonial is what clients of that law firm generally experience;
4. The testimonial was not drafted or written by the lawyer;
5. The client has not been given something of value in exchange for the testimonial;
6. The testimonial includes a disclaimer that prospective clients “may not obtain the same or similar results”.
Now, do you think all the “client testimonials” you see on billboards and on television meet each and every one of those criteria? If you don’t, then you must conclude the ads are deceptive and misleading gimmicks designed to lure you into hiring a particular lawyer.
What’s more, these advertisements are offensive because they depict folks who don’t appear to be suffering at all, with huge smiles, holding bags of money, and shouting from the mountain top gleefully how much their lawyer got them. The implication is their lawyer, by hook or crook, got some money for them from a minor accident. That’s not our experience with our clients. Our clients would gladly give their settlement or verdict money back, if they could turn back the clock and never have been harmed. The money they finally get from their lawsuit is a poor exchange for a body part or function, a life altering injury, or a lost loved one. Moreover, lawsuits are no fun. Each injured victim and their friends and family are put under a microscope, their lives made an open book, and no stone unturned on their past medical and personal history. They have to be examined by a doctor chosen by the defendant they are suing. They have to sit for endless “deposition” testimony long before trial and all their medical and personnel records are subpoenaed by the defendant and poured over to find the slightest arguably derogatory information to use to cast the injury victim in a bad light.
And, these boorish advertisements add insult to our clients’ injuries. The moment a jury walks into the courtroom and is told the case they are about to decide is an injury case, many instinctively think of these offensive billboards and television advertisements and automatically view the injured party and their lawyer in the courtroom as scam artists out to win the Great American Lawsuit Lottery. So, we dislike these advertisements more than anyone. We resent the ads because they are disrespectful to real injury victims who deserve and have the right to seek justice in the courtroom when those responsible for their injuries won’t accept responsibility.
Don’t tar all injury victims and their attorneys with the same brush. Given the choice, most injury victims would forgo money rather than suffer for a lifetime, and all of them find the money a poor substitute for good health.
Courtesy Melvin Wright, esq.