The New Jersey Supreme Court's Committee on Lawyer Advertising has yanked the capes off of the backs of so-called “Super Lawyers.” In Opinion 39, the Committee found that the Super Lawyer designation is just a self-congratulatory paid advertisement that unethically seeks to convey the impression that the “Super Lawyer” is more qualified than other lawyers who practice in the same area.
The Committee based its decision, among other things, on the following.
Such titles or descriptions . . . lack both court approval and objective verification of the lawyer's ability. These self-aggrandizing titles have the potential to lead an unwary consumer to believe that the lawyers so described are, by virtue of this manufactured title, superior to their colleagues who practice in the same area of law.
When a potential client reads such advertising and considers hiring a “super” attorney, the superlative designation induces the client to feel that the results that can be achieved by this attorney are likely to surpass those that can be achieved by a mere “ordinary” attorney. This simplistic use of a media-generated sound bite title clearly has the capacity to materially mislead the public.
Do you question the Committee's premise? One look at the Super Lawyers website will convince you otherwise. There you will find a banner that touts their advertisers as “Seriously Outstanding – The Top 5%.”
It seems not to be a coincidence that most (though not all) New Jersey “Super Lawyers” come from the state's larger firms. That, after all, is where most of the advertising dollars are.
We know that a lot of “super” (and cost-effective) legal work is being done by small firms that often are founded and staffed by refugees from the big firms. And that market their services responsibly by educating their prospective clients and demonstrating their expertise, rather than through the artifice of invented self-congratulatory titles.
While I often disagree with restrictions that the New Jersey courts have placed on attorney advertising, I have a one-word evaluation of the “Super Lawyer” prohibition: good.
The legal profession and the public are better off without Super Lawyers. Regular old lawyers have served us just fine through the years.