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Legal experts give lawyer ads mixed reviews

By The Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The insurance company executives in the television advertisement are startled to hear that the victim has hired the law offices of Mark E. Salomone and Morelli and rush to settle the case.

In John Haymond's commercial, a narrator says the Haymond Law Firm can help injury victims as bags of money are tossed out of an armored truck.

And ads in the Yellow Pages show smashed up cars and boast about million-dollar verdicts.

On the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, which allowed lawyers to advertise their services, legal experts are giving mixed review of such ads.

"It's injected a lot of brash, new voices into the legal profession," Quinnipiac University School of Law professor Martin Margulies told the New Haven Register. "Sometimes free speech is not always in the best taste."

Some experts say ads that stress huge rewards make the civil justice system look like a lottery, with personal injury lawyers holding the winning ticket. They say such ads encourage people to sue and may be indirectly responsible for driving up health and auto insurance rates as well as malpractice insurance for doctors.

"It creates a culture of fear where the only winners are the lawyers," said Geoff Freeman, a spokesman with the American Association of Health Plans.

Freeman cited a study by the Healthcare Liability Alliance that found about 70% of malpractice suits nationwide are either thrown out or end with no awards to the plaintiff.

Fighting frivolous lawsuits costs insurance companies millions of dollars, Freeman says. Those companies in turn pass their costs to doctors.

"We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars," he said.

Many people in the legal field, however, are reluctant to blame aggressive advertising for the onslaught of bogus lawsuits.

Quinnipiac law professor James Trowbridge says most lawyers do not waste their time on "loser" cases.

Some lawyers say advertising has allowed new lawyers without high-society connections to launch successful practices. More people can afford legal aid today, they say, because more attorneys are in the marketplace.

"It helps competition," said criminal defense attorney Hugh F. Keefe of the New Haven firm of Lynch, Traub, Keefe and Errante. "Consumers know what services are out there and at what price. Information helps people make intelligent choices."

Other attorneys say tacky television commercials and garish print ads have cheapened the profession.

"I may be an old curmudgeon, but I find all attorney advertising offensive," said John R. Williams, of Williams & Pattis in New Haven. "When I see some of those ads in the phone book I just cringe."

Williams blames offensive advertising for what he describes as a backlash by juries during civil trials. He says juries are returning verdicts that don't even cover the plaintiffs' medical bills.

"Juries believe that lawyers are running scams," he said. "And with the in-your-face advertising, it's no wonder."

Attorneys in Connecticut must follow the Rules of Professional Conduct, which forbid them to make false claims about their services or to create an "unjustified expectation" about what they can do.

The rules for attorney ads also require that information about court costs and litigation expenses "be in the same print size and type as the information regarding the lawyer's fee."

Margulies says aggressive advertising "undeniably" encourages people to take legal action. He says the court system has more illegitimate civil suits than legitimate ones.

Haymond, who has four full-page ads in the Yellow Pages and whose moneybag commercials air several times a day, declined to discuss his commercials.

"Anyone who considers it an issue should get their head out of the sand," he said.


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