Today, I’ll be departing from my usual posts on tips for lawyers involving car accidents or Michigan’s No-Fault law. A friend recently e-mailed me a link to the “Web’s Worst Lawyer Commercials.” I have to admit, I was laughing out loud at some. But mostly, I was cringing and thinking to myself, “Of course, these tasteless commercials would all have to involve personal injury lawyers.” Abraham Lincoln once wrote that trial lawyers who redress wrongs and thus protect the public are the ones who embrace the most noble aspects of the legal profession. Now, personal injury lawyers instead share a public image with lawyers with nicknames like “switchblade” or “the hammer.”
Here’s the “switchblade” commercial below.
That’s just great.
A Better Way to Find a Personal Injury Lawyer?
My own law firm, Michigan Auto Law, has a strict policy of no television, Yellow Pages or billboard advertising to the public. With the exception of a blog that I enjoy writing, which is aimed at helping the public and other personal injury attorneys with car accident safety tips and advice, we do no advertising to the public. Almost all of our cases come from Michigan lawyers, including other personal injury lawyers.
This means, thankfully, that unlike the lawyers in these commercials, I don’t have to yell the loudest to try to get clients. By handling a very narrow area of law and only helping people injured in car accidents, truck accidents, and motorcycle accidents, Michigan Auto Law has been able to grow to 19 trial lawyers and become the largest law firm in the state handling serious auto accident cases. Our advertising is mainly through our awards and trial results, which have included some of the top auto accident verdicts and settlements in Michigan for many years now. Other Michigan lawyers see the results published in year-end tabulations in the jury verdict reporters or newspapers like Michigan Lawyers Weekly. These lawyers then refer to us serious car accident and truck accident cases, and we pay them a referral fee when the cases settle. Therefore, other lawyers have a direct financial interest in making sure these cases get to the best lawyers in the state – because the more expert the lawyer they refer a case to, the higher their own referral fee.
The general public is better served by creating a system that encourages other lawyers to refer cases to the most competent attorneys in each area of law. It’s a nice system that works, and as long as my own law firm keeps producing the top settlements each year, we’ll keep having lawyers refer us accident cases. This keeps my mug off television, billboards and Yellow Pages, which is probably a good thing.
Why Misguided Ethics Rules Create Horrible Personal Injury Lawyer Commercials
No one thinks commercials like these are good for the legal profession. But there is a reason these terrible commercials exist. Almost all states including Michigan have well-intentioned but misguided rules on lawyer advertising. These rules also lead to embarrassing lawyer commercials that demean the legal profession and more importantly, leave the public unprotected in the hands of lawyers who may not be best qualified to protect them. Instead, they are put in the hands of lawyers who yell the loudest, but may not be very good personal injury lawyers. Simply put, the best lawyers – the lawyers who are experienced in their field and who handle one area of law – can’t advertise to the public that they are, in fact, truly experts. This is because states like Michigan have ethics rules that do not allow it.
Make sense? Not on your life.
This refusal to allow lawyers who are expert or specialists to actually call themselves “expert” or “specialists” creates this ridiculous situation where other lawyers (who may be incompetent) can now plaster their faces on every billboard in town, or do double Yellow Pages spreads to try to get cases. Now, don’t get me wrong, the “switchblade” might be a great lawyer. And there are some exceptions. For example, Sam Bernstein advertises heavily on Michigan television, but he has a top-notch law firm with many talented lawyers. But he is the exception, not the rule. Remember, most of these other advertising lawyers have no expertise or special qualification to handle a case other than they spent the most money.
Here’s the rub. The State Bar of Michigan exists to protect and serve the public. Yet the public pays the price for refusing to allow experts and specialists to advertise as such, because ironically, the State Bar has ethics rules that prohibit the best lawyers from explaining why they may be better qualified, but nothing to prohibit terrible lawyers from plastering their faces all over town or TV. Because as long as lawyers in Michigan and other states can’t say that they’re an expert when they truly are, the public will have a more difficult time finding which lawyer really is the most qualified to handle a particular case.
Let’s Create a Rule to Better Serve the Public: Let Experts be Called Experts
I spoke with a representative from the State Bar earlier this year about this. I said that if any law firm in the state is truly “expert” in helping people injured in car accidents and truck accidents, it would be Michigan Auto Law. After all, the other lawyers here and myself speak at every personal injury seminar in the state dealing with auto accidents and the No-Fault law, with several hundred legal seminars between us. This includes the State Bar’s seminar Oct. 1 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I’m speaking on “Representing Injured Clients in Car Accident Claims.” I’ve written a book that’s published by West for that many Michigan lawyers use for handling car accident cases, and my law firm receives referrals from lawyers throughout the state on the basis of our expertise and results in this narrow, focused area of law. That being said, I asked, “Shouldn’t we be able to say we are ‘experts’ in helping people injured in automobile accidents in Michigan?”
If these rules exist to protect the public, I fail to see how they protect anyone other than the “switchblade,” the “hammer” and the other lawyers in these terrible and embarrassing commercials.
Under our law, people injured in serious car accidents get only one shot at reaching a full and fair settlement. Just one bite at the apple. Restricting the public from knowing who the true experts are in each area of law seems a really bad way of protecting and serving the public.
But at least “the hammer” is happy about it.
– Steven M. Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top personal injury lawyers handling car and truck accident cases and No-Fault litigation. Michigan Auto Law has received the largest reported jury verdict for an automobile accident case in Michigan in seven of the past 10 years, according to published year-end verdicts and settlements reports.
Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with an auto accident attorney. We can help.