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2003 Formal Ethics Opinion 3

October 24, 2003

Advertising Membership in Organization with Self-Laudatory Title0

Opinion rules that a lawyer may advertise that he is a member of an organization with a self-laudatory title, provided it is a legitimate, disinterested organization with objective and verifiable standards for admission.

Inquiry:   

Attorney would like to run an advertisement in the yellow pages that will include the following statement:
Member, Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Membership is limited to successful trial lawyers who have demonstrated exceptional skill, experience, and excellence in advocacy by achieving a trial verdict, award, or settlement in the amount of One Million Dollars or more.

The advertisement would also state, "We do not represent that similar results will be achieved in your case. Each case is different and must be evaluated separately."

May Attorney advertise his services in this way under the Rules of Professional Conduct?

Opinion:   
Yes, provided advertising membership in such an organization does not violate Rule 7.1. Rule 7.1 prohibits a lawyer from making a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. A communication is misleading if it creates unjustified expectations about the results a lawyer can achieve or makes a comparison with the services of another lawyer that cannot be factually substantiated. See Rule 7.1(a)(2) and (3). Information about a lawyer's verdict record can be misleading if it is not provided in context. See 99 FEO 7 and 2000 FEO 1. Therefore, to avoid a misleading communication, a lawyer may only advertise his membership or participation in an organization with a self-laudatory name or designation if the following conditions are satisfied: 1) the organization has strict, objective standards for admission that are verifiable and would be recognized by a reasonable lawyer as establishing a legitimate basis for determining whether the lawyer has the knowledge, skill, experience, or expertise indicated by the designated membership; 2) the standards for membership are explained in the advertisement or information on how to obtain the membership standards is provided in the advertisement; 3) the organization has no financial interest in promoting the particular lawyer; and 4) the organization charges the lawyer only reasonable membership fees. Moreover, when the membership information may create unjustified expectations, such as the expectation that a lawyer obtains a million dollar verdict in every case, a disclaimer, similar to the one in this inquiry, must be included in the advertisement. Whether Million Dollar Advocates Forum satisfies these conditions must be determined by Attorney prior to the publication of the advertisement.

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