Is it ethical to advertise you’ve won?
If you are a recipient of legal awards and accolades, you’ll be glad to know that we now have an Ethics Advisory Opinion that tells us it is acceptable to let the world know you have won, under certain circumstances.
Many newspapers, television stations and national publishers compile an annual “best of” list by surveying their customers or conducting evaluations. Some of the entities ask for nominations from their customers or ask for a fee to be paid in order to receive a nomination. Some accept all nominations and votes without the consent of the nominee. Most offer a badge or emblem to be used on firm websites and in other marketing materials to publicize the honor.
The question posed in EAO 17-02 is whether a South Carolina lawyer may accept and advertise a designation or accolade such as “Best Lawyers” or “Super Lawyers” in a legal publication or newspaper readers’ poll, in conformity with the rules for lawyer advertising.
The Ethics Advisory Committee answered that these accolades and designations, including the badges and symbols are ethical when:
- The entity or publication has strict, objective standards for inclusion that are verifiable and would be recognized by a reasonable lawyer as establishing a legitimate basis for determining whether the lawyer has the knowledge, skill, experience, or expertise indicated by the listing;
- The standards for inclusion are explained in the advertisement or information on how to obtain the standards is provided in the advertisement. Referral to the publication’s website is adequate;
- The date of the designation or accolade is included;
- An advertisement makes it clear that the designation or accolade is made by a specific publication or entity through the use of a distinctive typeface or italics;
- No payment of any kind for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising or purchase of commemorative items, is required of the lawyer, or the lawyer’s firm, for giving the designation, accolade or inclusion in the listing; and
- The organization charges the lawyer only reasonable advertising fees to the extent it not only confers the designation or accolade but also provides a medium for promoting or advertising the designation or accolade.
The opinion stated that courts and bars of several jurisdictions nationwide uniformly approved the acceptance of designations or accolades including badges, symbols and other marks in attorneys’ advertising, subject to conditions designed to insure that the use of the accolades or designations is not false or misleading.