Let the Buyer Beware
Legal advertisements can be misleading
I was driving on US I-95 recently and passed a giant billboard advertising the services of a law firm that specializes in suing big insurance companies. I don’t recall the exact wording, but drivers who were injured on I-95 were urged to call now! Obviously, the firm dealt in personal injury cases.
In the past, lawyers weren’t allowed to advertise. Some viewed the profession as being above the crassness of Madison Avenue. Then, in 1977, the US Supreme Court ruled in Bates vs. the Arizona State Bar that legal advertisements were partially protected under the First Amendment. Since then the floodgates have opened wide.
Today, legal ads are seemingly everywhere—TV, radio, print, and definitely the Internet. I haven’t purchased a Yellow Pages ad in about twenty years, but I do advertise on the Internet. In doing so, I’m in the company of reputable and disreputable attorneys, and it’s up to the buyer to pick the right firm.
The unsettling trend is that complex cases often don’t go to the right attorney. They go to the attorney who paid the most money to run ads. In some ways, it’s like politics. The more money a firm has, the more exposure it can buy. The ability to buy tons of ads doesn’t mean the firm is reputable, nor does it mean the law firm is the right one to represent your particular case. The ads promote confusion, leaving you wondering which firm to hire.
Do your due diligence when hiring an attorney. Look for a lawyer who specializes in cases like yours. Look for an attorney who is a member of state and national legal associations, and who can demonstrate a solid commitment to continuing education in the field of law you are looking for help. In your initial face-to-face consultation, does the attorney seem passionate about what he or she does for a living? If not, consider going elsewhere. Use the same search techniques you’d use to find a reputable independent insurance agent or public adjuster.
I represent property owners in disputes with their insurance companies after a loss. As a national law firm, we see a lot of claims related to catastrophes. Ads from law firms encouraging you to sign up for representation frequently pop up on the Internet right after a storm. That’s when the trouble starts.
The bottom line is many of these ads are from law firms that don’t specialize in property claims disputes with insurance companies. The firm runs ads to get people to call in, and then the firm refers the clients to attorneys like me. I abhor this practice because the firm is misrepresenting its area of expertise just to make money off someone who has lost everything following a disaster.
If you’ve got a complex case and need representation, don’t believe everything you see in legal advertisements. Do your homework and ask lots of questions. You’ll be glad you did.