Advertisement of a Lawyer as the "Best"
Opinion rules that lawyers may not participate in a private lawyer referral service that advertises that its participants are "the best."
Law Firm ABC would like to participate in a private referral service doing business as "Consumer Connection." The referral service in question recruits participants from many different business and professional categories. Consumers desiring particular types of business and professional services are referred to participating entities when they call "Consumer Connection's" toll free number. The toll free number and information about the referral service are disseminated to consumers by means of television, radio, newspapers and direct mail advertising throughout eastern North Carolina. Promotional material made available to the Ethics Committee by the referral service indicates that "Consumer Connection" only represents "quality" businesses and that consumers "always get the best from Consumer Connection!" Although the promotional material indicates that "Consumer Connection is a locally owned and locally operated service...," it does not state that a list of all participating lawyers will be mailed free of charge to members of the public upon request or state that such information may be obtained. Further, it does not indicate that the service is not operated or endorsed by any public agency or disinterested organization.
May Law Firm ABC participate in the referral service as described?
No. Rule 2.2(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer may participate in and share the cost of a private lawyer referral service only so long as certain specified conditions are met. Among the conditions are requirements that all advertisements of the service "state that a list of all participating lawyers will be mailed free of charge to members of the public upon request... and indicate that the service is not operated or endorsed by any agency or any disinterested organization." Rule 2.2(c)(5)(b) and (c). Since the promotional material advertising the referral service fails to include the required information, it would be inappropriate for a lawyer to participate in the referral service. Furthermore, the characterization of participating lawyers as "the best" would appear to be a misleading communication violative of Rule 2.1(c) in that it "constitutes a comparison of the participating lawyers' services with those of other lawyers" in a way which cannot be factually substantiated.
If the deficiencies noted above were remedied, there would appear to be no other impediment to a lawyer's participation in the referral service.
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