Implying Early Settlement in Television Advertisement
Opinion rules that a television advertisement for legal services that implies that an insurance company will settle a claim more quickly because the advertised lawyer represents the claimant is misleading.
Lawyer A desires to air an advertisement on television. In the advertisement, two individuals who appear to be defense counsel for an insurance company, are seated at a table, having the following conversation:
Senior Lawyer: How do you suggest we handle this claim?
(Disclaimer appears on screen: Dramatization by actors. No specific results implied.)
Junior Lawyer: It's a large claim, serious auto accident. We could try to deny it or delay to see if they'll crack.
Senior Lawyer: Who's the lawyer representing the victim?
Junior Lawyer: Lawyer A.
(Metallic sound effect; logo of Lawyer A's firm appears.)
Senior Lawyer: Lawyer A? Let's settle this one.
Voice over by actor: North Carolina insurance companies know the name Lawyer A. If you've been injured in an auto accident…tell them you mean business.
Does the advertisement comply with the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct? Is the advertisement misleading?
Rule 7.1, Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services, sets forth the essential requirement for all advertising by lawyers. The rule states:
A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. A communication is false or misleading if it:
(a) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;
(b) is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or
(c) Compares the lawyer's services with other lawyers' services unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.
The advertisement in this inquiry intentionally creates the impression that the insurance company, and its lawyers, are anxious to settle a claim brought by Lawyer A solely because of his reputation. It implies that the decision to settle the claim is based upon the representation of the claimant by Lawyer A without regard for the strength of the claim or the evidence. Thus, the commercial is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results that the lawyer can achieve. Also, it misrepresents the importance of the myriad of factors that are taken into consideration by an insurance company, or its lawyers, when deciding whether and for how much a claim should be settled. Therefore, the advertisement does not comply with the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct.