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Client Endorsements Banned from NJ Lawyer Websites

by Carolyn Elefant on May 29, 2005 · 2 comments

in Ethics & Malpractice Issues, Marketing Ethics, Ratings/Testimonials

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And yet another stupid bar rule, this time out of New Jersey, where the Advertising Panel Lays Down Rules for Law Firm Ads on Wed:  Catchy URLs OK, but not client endorsements (New Jersey Law Journal, 5/31/05).  The article reports:

In two opinions published May 23, the committee says law firms are free to adopt Web addresses describing their practice specialties like “njtortlawyer.com” but may not identify themselves in ads with the Web address in lieu of the firm name, and law firms may not include in their advertising satisfied clients’ endorsements about the effectiveness of representation but may include endorsements limited to the quality of attorney-client interaction.

On the topic of testimonials, the article explains:

In the intervening 12 years, many other jurisdictions have banned lay endorsements, and the committee members decided that they “do not serve the ultimate end of attorney advertising: truthful communication of factually relevant information which gives the law public a competent basis to judge whether a particular lawyer has the requisite knowledge, skill, competence and ethical qualities to better serve in a particular area of law or a particular matter.”

The committee said endorsements may create unjustified expectations of the results a lawyer can achieve.

It’s true, client endorsements are layperson opinions – and they don’t
speak to a lawyer’s skill or competence.  But endorsements convey
something that’s equally important to consumers seeking counsel:
information on whether the lawyer satisfied the needs of the client.
Sure, clients expect competence and skill – but that ought to be a
given once a lawyer is able to pass the bar again.  What’s not a given
is whether a lawyer will fight for a client and whether a lawyer will
listen to what the client wants.  And that’s the kind of information
that’s usually available from endorsements – and the kind of
information that clients seek in hiring attorneys.  If the endorsements
are true, why deprive clients of that information?  (And if they’re
false, sanction lawyers on a case by case basis).

Incidentally, what’s the scope of this opinion?  Can a lawyer barred in New Jersey include endorsements if he’s barred in other states?  And if those other states don’t have the same restriction as New Jersey, seems to me that the NJ lawyer, if barred from posting endorsements, will be at a competitive disadvantage to lawyers in other jurisdictions where the NJ lawyer practices.

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