Wednesday, February 11, 2015

World's Greatest Lawyer.


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The Puffery Of Law Practice During a recent visit to a friends law office, I noted something new on his wall.  He had mounted a plaque boasting that he was named one of the top trial attorneys in the state. “It’s a major award!” he exclaimed as he polished his laminated accolade.  "That's odd. " I thought. "The guy never did a trial.  Next, he'll be telling me he was shot down over Iraq with Brian Williams.


 As a kid, I grew up in a time when getting a trophy meant something. It used to be only the fastest kid got a glimmering first place trophy.  The rest of us got tear stained participant ribbons.  I knew my lawyer buddy was not the fastest kid in class.  His practice consisted mostly of speeding infractions and evictions.  Although he had never even done a mock trial,  here it was on his waiting room wall. “Top Trial Attorneys of 2014.”  Top trial attorneys my res ipsa loquitar.  The award was about as prestigious as my “World’s Greatest Lawyer” coffee mug or the leg lamp Ralphie's old man got in a Christmas Story.

In recent years, I have seen an increase of attorneys boasting about awards from various official sounding organizations.  I've gotten the letters myself.
The United States Registry of Really Awesome Drunk Driving Barristers proclaimed me among the best attorneys under the age of 50 living near a Starbucks in Central Connecticut.   The North American Association of  Motor Car Personal Injury Aficionados bestowed “Best P.I. Lawyer on the Planet".  I was even offered the same three hundred ducket trial attorney accolade my friend received.  I was surprised no one offered me a Grammy for a small fee.

I’ll admit. that my ego was stroked.  Perhaps my incredible legal acumen was finally recognized.  Word must have spread through the state's court house hallways and on the back nine of golf courses?.  Sadly, I slowly came to the realization that  the award was due more likely to the three hundred dollar “processing fee” required to accept the honor.  If you didn’t pay, it would simply go to the next “runner up.” I don't begrudge my friend for falling for the ploy.   He is a relatively new attorney striking out on his own.  He was just trying to stand out from the field.  He just wanted a little gravitas.  A little recognition for all the years of hard work.    Law school,  the socratic method, the bar exam, student debt...maybe we all deserve the occasional plaque. 

I have been guilty of puffery myself.  I've boasted my legal blog was once selected as a Top 100 ABA Legal Blawg.  That was years ago.  I began sounding like Mickey Rooney bragging about being the top box office draw for 1939.   As a newly minted attorney, I remember getting a phone call indicating that our firm had been chosen as one of the top law firms in Hartford, Connecticut.  It was an amazing accomplishment considering I had recently been admitted. The results would be printed in a special issue of a major city newspaper. They only needed a small fee to cover printing costs.  I made the executive decision to accept the offer and forwarded the fee.  A month later our name appeared on a list of top businesses.  Our misspelled firm name was one of many listed under the heading “Best Law Firms”   We were just above “Best Pizza Places” and just under "Best Manicure." Eventually, I discovered the truth. An ad company simply bought out a page from the local paper, then fished for local businesses with news of their “award”.  The suckers that bit ended up in the paper.  

Maybe I am not the best person to play judge and jury.  Maybe I'm a hypocrite.I think some of these awards do have at least some merit.  Maybe you were honored by a local bar association or a community group.  I'll admit I proudly display my recognition as a "Super Lawyer Connecticut Rising Star."  A "Best Law Office" plaque sits on our fireplace mantle. We were selected in a local newspaper readers' poll.   Maybe it's because I didn't have to pay an admistrative fee to receive them.  Maybe it's because Superlawyers has a patented peer reviewed vetting process that has been scrutnized by bar associations across the country.  A process that takes into account years of practice and grievance records.  Or maybe it's because I wasn't hugged enough as a law student.  In my defense, my 1992 Rocky Hill High School Prom King trophy and 1984 Spelling Bee 3rd Runner Up ribbon remain boxed up at my mother's house.  

I would hate to have a client choose our firm based solely on a plaque.  Of course, clients choose lawyers for a variety of strange reasons.  I recently had a client who chose her last attorney because she liked his ad on Craigslist.com She groused that the attorney wound up not being very good.  “Look on the bright side" I countered. "At least he didn’t murder you.”  I would hope prospective clients take these distinctions with a grain of salt.  A "Trial Attorney award" hanging on a waiting room wall might be a sign you are dealing with a real corporate shark.  In my experience, it is usually just a puffer fish with an inferiority complex.  


It is also important to remember that there are ethical considerations when it comes to puffery.   If you do practice law,  do yourself a favor.  If you've never done a trial or consistently farm out cases, maybe reconsider hanging up that “Best Trial Lawyer” plaque.  Do good work and you won't need to pay someone hundreds of dollars to be recognized as a good lawyer. Otherwise, stick with the “Best Lawyer” coffee mug instead. 


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