5 N.J.L. 2381
September 29, 1997
149 N.J.L.J. 1298
September 29, 1997
Communicating Expertise and Specialization
(Supersedes Opinion 7)
The Committee has received a request for prepublication
approval of a brochure and letterhead which will include the slogan
"Expert Legal Representation." The brochure will also include
references to the law firm's "specialization" in a particular field
"Expert" is defined as a person "[h]aving or demonstrating great skill, dexterity, or knowledge as the result of experience or training." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (3d ed. 1992). Synonyms include proficient, adept, skilled and skillful. Skill, dexterity and knowledge are qualities of competence achieved by the individual but not necessarily comparative of those qualities in others. Similarly, "specialist" is defined as a person "devoted to a particular occupation or branch of study or research." Id. Devotion does not, of itself, necessarily imply greater ability than that held by others. The terms "expert," "expertise, "specialist" and "specialization," if true, are not inherently misleading. Thus, their use, if accurate, is not prohibited under RPC 7.1(a)(1) or (3).
Should the use of any of these terms be challenged, the burden of demonstrating the accuracy of the description shall fall on the attorney making the claim. Further, we note that the substantiation of "expertise" calls for a significantly higher showing of accomplishment and capability than "specialization," which connotes a concentration of time in a particular area.
The terms "accredited," "recognized" and "certified," however, attempt to suggest the recognition and certification of self- described specialization and expertise by a qualified independent authority. Attorneys are not permitted to communicate certification or their self-described specialization or expertise unless they have, in fact, been certified. RPC 7.4.
RPC 7.4(a) states: "A lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law. A lawyer may not, however, state or imply that the lawyer has been recognized or certified as a specialist in a particular field of law except as provided in paragraph (b) of this Rule." Paragraph (b) provides:
A lawyer may communicate that the lawyer has been certified as a specialist or certified in a field of practice only when the communication is not false or misleading, states the name of the certifying organization, and states that the certification has been granted by the Supreme Court of New Jersey or by an organization that has been approved by the American Bar Association. If the certification has been granted by an organization that has not been approved, or has been denied approval, by the Supreme Court of New Jersey or the American Bar Association, the absence or denial of such approval shall be clearly identified in each such communication by the lawyer.
RPC 7.4 does not prohibit self-described specialization or expertise. Rather, it is the communication or suggestion of certification as a specialist that is governed by the Rule. Consequently, the Committee holds that accurate self-described specialization or expertise, without more, is not necessarily misleading and, if true, may be included in advertising and on attorneys' letterheads. Opinion 7, which indicates a conclusion to the contrary, is hereby overruled.