Today’s question: is it possible to prove that a self-proclaimed “legal genius” is not?
Before, I explain why I’m asking, I’ll share some background — if only to lend a modicum of educational value to a story surely bound to appear in a Was That Wrong? post.
It’s rare that I receive an inquiry or disciplinary complaint about the name of a law firm. More broadly, I don’t recall the last of either that involved an attorney advertisement. As such, I don’t often blog about the advertising rules.
I’m not a huge fan of the advertising rules. I’ll never forget a CLE that I presented at a VBA meeting that took place at one of the state’s ski areas. It was 2005 or 2006. A few miles from the resort I passed a restaurant. Here’s what its sign said:
“World’s Best Breakfast!”
I’ll get back to the restuarant in a moment.
Anyhow, whether I’m fan is irrelevant. Vermont’s lawyer advertising rules exist. Here’s what we know:
A lawyer runs afoul of V.R.Pr.C. 7.5(a) by using firm name that violates V.R.Pr.C. 7.1. In turn, V.R.Pr.C. 7.1 prohibits a lawyer from making “a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.” The comments to Rule 7.1 include examples of statements that are inherently misleading, as well as of the types of omissions that make otherwise truthful statements misleading.
As applied, it’s unethical for a lawyer or law firm to use advertisements that (a) include unsubstantiated comparisons to the quality of legal services provided by others; or (b) create unjustified expectations as to the results the lawyer can achieve. Thus, lawyers have been sanctioned for advertising as “the experts in” specified types of law, as well as for referring to themselves as a county’s “premier” firm in a particular practice area.
I’m left to wonder whether the restaurant on the mountain, in fact, serves the world’s best breakfast and whether anyone who has ever eaten there left feeling otherwise.
Which brings me back to the question posed at the beginning.
LegalGenius is a law firm in Michigan. I don’t know what Michigan’s advertising rules are, nor do I know whether the lawyer who owns the firm is a legal genius. Frankly, that seems to be the least of the lawyer’s concerns these days.
Last week, the lawyer who owns Legal Genius pled guilty to conspiring to defraud the IRS and to steal. The DOJ announced the plea in this press release. Outlets reporting the story include the ABA Journal, Forbes, and WXYZ Detroit. The lawyer and co-conspirators were alleged to have stolen non-public traffic accident reports and to have used them to solicit clients. The lawyer was also alleged to have moved firm income to his personal bank account as part of attempt to “obstruct and impede” and IRS investigation.
I’m always looking for ways to make my CLE presentations more interesting. I suspect we could have a robust moot court as to whether the lawyer’s issues with the criminal law support an allegation that the firm name – Legal Genius – is false or misleading.