And the winner is…
It is the season of the year when award ceremonies are in full swing in the entertainment and sports industries. What does this have to do with personal injury lawyers you may ask?
In recent years, we have seen a significant increase in lawyer advertising, particularly by personal injury lawyers. Included in such ads have been a plethora of lawyers touting having been the recipient of awards of questionable validity. These awards are commonly referred to as “ego” or “vanity” awards. Accident victims or their families who are searching for a reputable personal injury lawyer may find it hard to distinguish between legitimate awards that are bestowed upon personal injury lawyers based on skills, merit, and competency and those that are “won” by a lawyer who is required to pay a fee for the award they claim or the opportunity to advertise the award. The challenge for potential clients is in determining which “awards” are objectively verifiable.
There is concern that a vulnerable potential client will not know whether a particular personal injury lawyer’s “awards” are in fact a true reflection of that lawyer’s professional ability. In some US states, Better Business Bureaus have issued warnings to the public to be cautious and to scrutinize carefully the claims of lawyers regarding their “awards.”
Here in Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) regulates the conduct, competence, and capacity of lawyers. The Society has a number of awards and designations that reflect ability and exceptional competence. The Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit a lawyer from advertising as a specialist in a specific practice area without certification from LSUC. They also prohibit the marketing of legal services that are misleading, confusing, or deceptive. Because of concerns that the advertising of winning these “ego” and “vanity” awards may be misleading to the public and lack professionalism, the LSUC appointed a working group to study this problem further (along with other related advertising issues) with a view to making recommendations that will better protect the public. The working group will be reporting its recommendations within the next month. Hopefully we will see changes that will assist personal injury clients and other members of the public in determining the validity of “awards” that are not related or based on ability or merit.
In the meantime, victims of car accidents need to be cautious that they are not hiring a particular personal injury lawyer based upon an unmeritorious award or honour. As when hiring any kind of professional, it is best to ask friends and family for recommendations. In addition to other questions you have, be sure to ask a lawyer you are considering hiring about any “awards” they have claimed to have won. Find out if the lawyer has been certified by LSUC as a specialist in the practice area where you require services. Inquire for how long they been handling this type of work and ask for references. In personal injury claims, ask whether they have experience in representing clients with similar injuries or impairments.
The bottom line is you must have confidence in your lawyer’s competence. A competent and skilled personal injury lawyer will have no problem in providing answers that will satisfy you that he or she has the skill and ability to properly represent you and your family.
Caveat emptor! Let the buyer beware!