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July 15, 2017
Lawyers may not advertise as part of an association

A lawyer practicing under his own firm name cannot advertise as part of an “association” of individual law firms that market under the association’s name across the country, according to the Bar’s Standing Committee on Advertising.

The committee, at its June 22 meeting during the Bar’s convention, reviewed a proposed ad for Law Tigers submitted by a Bar member.

According to the submission, Law Tigers represents a national association of lawyers who represent people injured in motorcycle accidents. Law Tigers provides marketing, a website, and a toll-free phone number. Participating members pay a marketing fee to Law Tigers and in exchange get all the calls to the toll-free number in the purchased geographic area.

Participating law firms and lawyers do not practice under the trade name Law Tigers, but rather under their own firm names.

“The [Bar advertising] staff position is this is a false and misleading trade name, it’s not the name of the individual law firm,” said committee Chair Carolyn Bell. “If you’re anywhere in the country, you think all these lawyers are together and they’re not. They’re in individual law firms.”

The Florida lawyer seeking to participate in Law Tigers proposed a “car wrap” ad that would be displayed on a vehicle that featured the name Law Tigers, a tiger’s head, a motto, and the toll-free number. It was modified to include the lawyer’s name and contact information in much smaller type. Bar Ethics and Advertising Counsel Elizabeth Tarbert noted that the name and contact information was virtually unreadable to the average viewer.

Bar staff said Law Tigers operates like a franchise, which is prohibited under Bar rules, and the ad is misleading because the lawyer does not practice under the trade name Law Tigers and does not use it on business cards, letterheads, pleadings, and other venues.

Joe Corsmeier, hired to represent the filing lawyer, argued that Law Tigers is not a franchise but an association.

“The association is a group of individual lawyers who have experience with motorcycle accidents. That’s what it is. They buy the name. There’s a membership agreement,” Corsmeier said. He said the proposed ad could be fixed to more prominently display the attorney’s name. He also called the arrangement a “unique situation” and offered to work with the committee on its concerns.

But Tarbert said there were multiple problems with the proposed ad, including its motto, “We watch over our own.”

“Everything about it says these are multiple lawyers in a big law firm,” Tarbert said. “His client is a sole practitioner. Everything about this screams there is more than one lawyer.”

She also said Law Tigers in its present setup does not qualify as a lawyer referral service because there is no “panel” of participating attorneys but rather all calls from a particular area go to one lawyer or firm. It is also not registered with the Bar as a referral service.

The committee voted unanimously to uphold the Bar staff opinion rejecting the ad.

[Revised: 04-25-2018]