Sunday, April 13, 2014
The Indiana Supreme Court has ordered a private (but published) reprimand of an attorney who had practiced for 41 years without discipline.
The attorney had entered into a franchising agreement for the use of the trademark of "Law Tigers" from a non-profit Arizona corportation, the American Association of Motorcycle Injury Lawyers, Inc. (the "AAMIL").
Calls to the AAMIL hotline were referred to the attorney if they involved matters in his geographical area.
The attorney's own website complied with Indiana advertising rules; the AAMIL's website (which provided referrals to the attorney) did not:
The Law Tigers website contained examples of previous results obtained by "Law Tigers Motorcycle Accident Lawyers," boasting "Exceptional Results: Settlements and Verdicts." A tab led to "Client Testimonials" from persons who claim to have utilized Law Tigers in seeking advice and/or representation regarding a motorcycle-related legal matter. Such testimonials included: "Law Tigers changed my life in a big way and my family received our fair share of justice." "Law Tigers went above and beyond! The settlement was more than expected!" "The legal services were fast and painless and the best experience I have ever had with lawyers and lawsuits." Although none of the settlements, verdicts, or testimonials related to Respondent, the website did not disclose that they did not relate to Respondent.
Respondent also maintained a separate website for his law firm, which could be accessed through a link from the Law Tigers website. The firm website included a statement that the firm was not permitted to include information about previous results from settlements and verdicts. However, a visitor to the Law Tigers website was not required to access the link to the firm website to be put in contact with Respondent and his firm.
Respondent distributed AAMIL-produced informational materials within his territory, including "promotional backers." The promotional backers contained a toll-free telephone number for the Law Tigers service, the Law Tigers website address, and the names of Respondent and his firm. However, the promotional backers did not contain Respondent's address.
The court here held the attorney responsibile for the AAMIL website content, which provided results of prior cases and endorsements.
Update: Carolyn Elefant has a thoughtful post on this opinion. (Mike Frisch)