Lawyers, like other professionals and business owners, need to get the word out to the public about their skills and expertise, and advertising in social media, print, TV, radio, and even billboards is not unusual.
However, how far can a lawyer go to tout his qualifications and how circumscribed should a lawyer be in attracting clients? Is exaggeration commonplace, should it be allowed, and how does a potential client distinguish the truth from puffery?
The Law Society of Ontario recently reprimanded an Ontario lawyer for what amounted to misleading advertising. In Law Society of Ontario v. Mazin 2019 ONLSTH 35 the tribunal considered the rules that govern advertising which provide that the marketing of legal services must be demonstrably true, accurate, and verifiable. Advertising that is misleading, confusing, or deceptive, not in the best interests of the public, or inconsistent with the high standards of professionalism expected of lawyers will not be tolerated.
Advertising which may fall afoul of the rules includes suggestions of qualitative superiority over other lawyers, or marketing that refers to a lawyer’s past results, without including a statement that past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. As well, the boasting of dubious awards, rankings, or third party endorsements that are not bona fide is not acceptable.
The tribunal found that Mr. Mazin’s Facebook page included the assertion that he was “Toronto’s Best Personal Injury Lawyer”. He also marketed previous successful results touting that he was “known for record breaking cases and multimillion dollar results”. He tweeted an endorsement from a client who claimed that Mr. Mazin had settled his case for 75 times the amount offered by the client’s insurance company. The required disclaimer about past results not being indicative of future results was absent.
Other problematic marketing included a reference that his firm was “rated by ThreeBestRated.ca to be in the top three personal injury firms in Toronto” and on his website he said he had been “voted best personal injury lawyer in Toronto”, and “voted Navigate Magazine #1 Toronto Personal Injury Lawyer”. He also displayed a badge which read “Million Dollar Advocates Forum”.
The tribunal found and Mr. Mazin agreed that his ratings and awards did not reflect his performance as a personal injury lawyer and did not include any input or evaluation of him by clients or others familiar with his work.
While finding that he professionally misconducted himself, the tribunal meted out the least onerous form of discipline and reprimanded him for his breach of the rules.
The tribunal found that he had practiced for 15 years with no previous discipline history, had cooperated fully with the investigation, and by the time of the hearing had addressed all of the concerns that led to his reprimand.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang