One of the great dilemmas on the business management side of a law practice revolves around advertising. How to advertise. Where to advertise. How much to spend on advertising. The list goes on. In addition to the business-centered decisions related to advertising, there are ethical considerations to consider as well. Believe it or don't, but the way lawyers advertise is supposed to meet certain ethical criteria. But, like so many things when lawyers are involved, the "gray" area gets a lot of attention. Because of that, a good rule of thumb when choosing an attorney is "Buyer Beware!" Let's see how this works.
Lawyers are just like any other professional, their ability is one of the big selling points. Clients usually prefer a lawyer with extensive experience if they can afford it. Certainly, there's nothing wrong with that. When I fly with an instructor pilot, I want one that has been flying for a long time. It's a comfort thing. The longer he's been flying, the more likely he's experienced a lot of things which help raise his competence level. But think about it this way. You travel down to your local municipal airport for flying lessons. You see a bulletin board with photographs of instructor pilots and their resumés from which you can pick the instructor you want to work with. There is an assortment of young pilots who have recently graduated from a top-notch aerospace program at the local university, all of whom will be transitioning soon from part-time flight instructor to full-time pilot for various commercial airline companies. Their total flight time is decent, but restricted by age alone, they haven't been flying for years. Then there's Bob, and Bob seems like your guy. He's older than the other instructor pilots and he's listed over 20,000 flight hours! "That's my guy!" you think, and quickly schedule your first lesson. Lucky for you, the young man working the desk that morning (who happens to be one of the other fight instructors) tells you that he will schedule with Bob if you insist, but you need to know something. Bob counts all of the hours he spent flying AS A PASSENGER when he was an insurance salesman covering the mid-west. Technically, his resumé does say that he's spent "over 20,000 hours flying the friendly skies" but it doesn't specifically say he was the pilot! Is he lying? Not really. But, certainly, the impression he leaves and intends to leave, is that he has a skill set that others don't have. Let's apply that to lawyers.
When you conduct your Google search for a lawyer of whatever variety, you will no doubt see their accomplishments. Various awards and recognitions, memberships in various organizations, etc. But what you really are drawn to is the track record. You see the laundry list of "wins" for various clients ostensibly just like you. So you give them a call and schedule your consultation. The building is nicely furnished and you feel like you've really chosen wisely. You meet with a sharp-dressed lawyer who sits behind a beautiful Mahogany desk with various plaques, certificates, and diplomas hanging on the walls. You feel even better. The lawyer is polite, knowledgeable, and expensive. Very expensive. But, you think, I've seen the wins. I know he can do for me what he's done for others. And just like that, you've made your first mistaken assumption which may prove disastrous. Sure, you read on the website about how the lawyer has obtained seemingly impossible deals from the prosecutor. Deals that other lawyers tell you up front they can't likely get. But this lawyer can, and that must be why they are so expensive. They are the best. The problem isn't really what you know, it's what you don't know, and the lawyer isn't offering.
Remember this; every criminal case is different. The charges may be the same, but the cases are different because the facts are different. Hanging on my wall is a newspaper article and not guilty verdict form from a First Degree Felony Murder case I won a few years ago. Why is it on my wall? Because I'm proud of my accomplishment and I want my clients and prospective clients to know that I can be successful inside a courtroom. I want them to know that I've actually gone to trial, not just read about them. But, maybe my flaw is honesty. When a client comes in and says they are charged with a serious crime, I let them know that past success isn't a guarantee of future duplication. In other words, just because I've won a murder case, doesn't mean I'll "win" your case. Your facts are different. And that is where advertising becomes deceptive, but not necessarily dishonest. If I advertise what I call anomaly cases, cases where the facts were so out of the ordinary that the result was likewise out of the ordinary, I leave the impression that what was an anomaly is routine, when it is not. The problem I have with that approach is that the lawyer is setting up the client to expect something that may not be delivered.
So what's a potential client to do? Beware. Simple as that. If you go see a lawyer because their win record is impressive, ask them about those wins. How do those cases compare to yours? Don't discount the lawyer's experience. It's worth its weight in gold. But if you're hiring because you think they can win cases that others can't, you need to ask them specifically about that fact. At the end of the day, choose wisely and educate yourself about your lawyer, don't just read their strategic advertising.