I was recently offered the opportunity to buy a beautiful plaque for $159 from American Lawyer Media (“ALM”) stating that I was among the top lawyers in Maryland based upon my highest ethical standards and professional excellence. I declined the offer.
The second most deceptive marketing technique used by attorneys is the use of the designation of best, top, or super lawyer in a jurisdiction as determined by a local magazine, an advertising insert, or some other third party. These rating guides attempt to identify the super, best, or top lawyers in Montgomery County and/or Maryland in various practice areas, including family law, business law, personal injury, civil litigation, criminal, trials, and appeals. There is no scientific validity to the selection and rating process used to identify these so-called super, best, or top lawyers in Montgomery County and/or Maryland. In fact, these rating guides usually contain a disclaimer stating the same.
For example, the disclaimer in the 2012 edition of Super Lawyers magazine for Maryland candidly states: “THE HIRING OF AN ATTORNEY IS AN IMPORTANT DECISION THAT SHOULD NOT BE SOLELY BASED UPON ADVERTISING OR THE LISTINGS IN THIS MAGAZINE. NO REPRESENTATION IS MADE THAT THE QUALITY OF THE LEGAL SERVICES PERFORMED BY THE ATTORNEYS LISTED IN THIS MAGAZINE WILL BE GREATER THAN THAT OF OTHER LICENSED ATTORNEYS”.
ALM also publishes a magazine insert titled “Legal Leaders”, which purports to identify the top rated lawyers and law firms in the Washington, D.C., area. ALM’s disclaimer states that the “publishers do not warrant the information contained herein is complete or accurate”.
Unlike the ranking of colleges or the quality of life in different cities, there is no objective criteria to rate lawyers. At most, the designation of top, best, or super lawyer signifies that the attorney has obtained some degree of popularity in Montgomery County and/or Maryland. But you wouldn’t want to choose a football league’s MVP based upon the player’s popularity. Instead, you would want to award this honor to the player who had the best season based upon measurable metrics, such as touchdowns thrown, points scored, passes caught, or yards gained.
In fact, the use of the designation of “best attorney” or “top rated lawyer” in advertising actually violates Rule 7.1(c) of the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Profession Conduct. This rule prohibits an attorney from comparing “the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated”. According to Maryland Bar Counsel, a Maryland attorney should never use superlatives, such as “top”, “super”, “premier”, “best”, “most aggressive”, or “most successful”, because “it is almost impossible for the lawyer to factually substantiate” such claims. My advice to clients is to disregard all print and internet advertising that claims that the attorney is “super”, “best”, “top”, “greatest”, or “most” when searching for an attorney in Montgomery County and/or Maryland.