If you live in Rochester, New York, you’ve undoubtedly heard more DWI advertising in the last three months than you’ve probably heard in a decade. So what’s going on? Why all the hub-bub? This is touchy, but being as diplomatic as possible, let me start by posing a few questions.
First, do I hire a criminal lawyer based upon the advertising? Yes and no. As a cardinal rule, however, never hire a criminal lawyer, or any other lawyer for that matter, based solely upon what he or she may tell you on the radio, television or a website. Fact is, short of providing a guarantee, a lawyer can say pretty much say whatever he or she wants to say about their firm. There are absolutely no ethical barriers to a lawyer admitted yesterday afternoon from telling you that he or she is “premier,” “best” or “leading.” The only real limitation is use of the term “specialist.” Use of that term requires that the lawyer be recognized as a specialist by an organization approved by the American Bar Association.
Secondly, when you listen to an advertisement, listen closely. Listen very closely. Listen to more than just the name and the catchphrase. Listen to what the lawyer actually says. If he or she just blithers on about “caring” or try’s to give you legal advice, turn it off. Any lawyer worth your money will give you hard facts about himself and his practice. If you’ve heard our advertising, you know that we make no secret about the awards, honors, or positions I’ve held and the books that I’ve authored.
Thirdly, and I cannot stress this enough, do your research. And when you do it, recognize that research is more than looking at a slick looking website with all sorts of attorney made claims. The trick to understanding how good a law firm really is to look behind all the glitz of multiple websites, press releases and radio claims. When you do, you may be shocked to find out that the attorney is nothing more than a great spokesman for him or herself and a largely inexperienced firm. Likewise, watch out for endorsements, either from “former clients” or attorneys. True, we have them at our website, everyone does, but recognize the obvious. They are there for a reason, and there is no guarantee that they really come from a client. Attorney endorsements? These things are bandied about like trading cards. If you really want to have fun, call one of the attorney endorsers and ask him or her how many times he or she has seen the attorney in court, what the basis of the endorsement is or if they have ever really met. If they will actually speak to you and the answer to that one is yes, ask where.
Fourth, take a hard look at the “Attorneys” section of the website. What do they really tell you about that attorney? That he or she graduated from X law school? Of course they did. Every lawyer admitted since the early seventies has graduated from some law school. The real issue is what have they done since graduation?
Let me give you an example from a real website. This lawyer claims to be the “premier” DWI defense firm in New York. However, when you run a WestLaw search of the attorney and his firm you find that this supposed statewide firm with multiple attorneys ostensibly handling thousands of cases has had one, that’s right, one, reported decision in a DWI case show up. By contrast, I alone have 57. The complete lack of reported cases for this firm is highly significant. It is strongly indicative of the fact that they do very little actual litigation. If they did, there would be slews of decisions on motions and hearings.
Now let’s check out what they don’t tell you on the website. How long have the attorneys have been practicing. Attorney 1 has 2 years experience; number 2 was admitted this March; number 3, 2 years; number 4, 4 years; number 5 does better with 8 years; number 6, 13 years; number 7 has been admitted since 1987 but fails to show that he recently joined the firm and was out of law altogether for two years, number 8, 2 years; number 9, 7 years; number 10 was admitted March 19th of this year; number 11 admitted April 17th of this year; number 12, 5 years; and number 13, 2 years.
Finally, take a look at how rooted the firm is in your community. Do they really have offices or is this a “Regus” arrangement where they grab space for a month or two.
The bottom line is this. The plethora of advertising you are bombarded with daily exists because DWI defense can be lucrative and everybody wants a piece of the pie. But winning cases takes more than a desire for clients and a neat catchphrase. It takes real skill, knowledge and most importantly, experience. Experience with the little nuances that guarantees that your hard earned dollar, your reputation and your future will not be wasted by what someone wants you to believe they can do.