Does attorney advertising keep the general public from knowing what the true ability of the lawyer?

There are numerous methods by which an individual or a prospective client can be referred to a law firm for legal representation.  Traditionally, referrals come from other lawyers in the area who personally know the legal abilities of those they are referring cases to.  Unfortunately, freedom of speech decisions from the United States Supreme Court there has allowed an explosion of marketing and advertising by lawyers.  The unfortunate part for potential clients is that some of the attorneys may be competent in the areas of practice in which they advertise; others may only be marginally competent to handle matters in their advertised practice areas, and the potential client may be unable to determine which is which.

These days, virtually all law firms and/or lawyers advertise in some form, whether by way of an internet web page or by radio, television ads, billboards, phone books, etc.   The Law Offices of James A.H. Bell, P.C., has made some efforts towards marketing the firm in order for the public and potential clients to be made aware of our abilities. 

The difficulty with lawyer advertising is that the general public is not able to discern the ability of the lawyer, nor the experience of the lawyer, nor the ethics of the lawyer from advertising.  In my own town, there are lawyers advertising for DUI cases, spending nearly a million dollars a year to bring in potential clients.  The problem is that that particular law firm has not tried to jury verdict more than half a dozen cases in over ten years of practice.  As a consequence, what the client runs into is what I term a “dump truck” law firm.  Clients are hiring the lawyer, and the lawyer is representing a truck load of clients every day.  The lawyer shows up in court with four or five cases on the same docket on the same day.  It is my professional opinion that there is no way that a competent lawyer can handle that volume of cases, day in and day out, and give each client competent, quality legal representation.   The client’s cases end up in the dumping ground of the guilty plea graveyard.

Another method that is often used to obtain large numbers of clients is to use a lawyer referral service, where a lawyer pays a fee to a law firm that markets heavily in a particular field. For example, if you contact a national law firm in Chicago, Illinois, and they refer you to a lawyer in Knoxville, Tennessee, for a case, often that referring lawyer is collecting six to seven hundred dollars per case per month to refer the business to the lawyer in Knoxville.  Another advertising and referral method uses testimonials from former clients on their web page, billboard or TV advertisement.  Just remember, while a lawyer may do a great job on one day, he may do a poor job on another day.  What the general public should be aware of and look for is an attorney with a consistent history of quality representation over a long period of time.

The general public should be aware of the marketing schemes and methods used by attorneys in their efforts to obtain referrals of new cases.  In order to thoroughly and completely investigate your lawyer, you should ask the following questions:  how many jury trials of the type of my particular case have you tried to verdict in the last five years?  Have you lectured on this subject to law firms or legal associations?  Have you ever been sanctioned by the bar association or reprimanded, disbarred, or otherwise punished for legal infractions?

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