9 N.J.L. 2405
December 11, 2000
162 N.J.L.J. 1034
December 11, 2000
Advertising Presence of Certified
Civil and Certified Criminal Trial
Attorneys in Firm
This opinion arises from the Committee on Attorney
Advertising's consideration of a grievance concerning a full page
advertisement a law firm caused to be published inside and as the
back cover of what was then known as the Bell Atlantic Yellow
Pages. The grievance alleged that the attorneys falsely held
themselves out as Certified Civil and Certified Criminal Trial
Attorneys when they were not so certified.
Upon completing its initial review, the Committee preliminarily determined that the advertisements violated RPC 7.1(a)(1) and RPC 7.4(a), as well as R. 1:39-6(c) and RG 402:3(a). A formal Complaint was filed and the Committee and Respondents ultimately entered into a Stipulation of Discipline by Consent which was submitted to the Disciplinary Review Board pursuant to R. 1:20-10(b). The Disciplinary Review Board, in addition to imposing a Public Reprimand, requested that the Committee publish a Notice to the Bar concerning the unethical conduct. The Committee, in turn, concluded that the nature of the conduct warranted a formal advisory opinion. The purpose of this opinion is to place attorneys on notice that if they decide to advertise the fact that one or more of the attorneys in the firm has been certified as a civil or criminal trial attorney, they must identify the attorneys who have been so certified.
As mentioned above, Respondents arranged for full page advertisements to be published inside and as the back cover of certain editions of the Bell Atlantic Yellow Pages. Under the banner or masthead of THE LAW OFFICES OF [A & B]See footnote 1 1 , appeared two official seals which, pursuant to R. 1:39-6(b) and RG. 402:4, may only be used by certified trial attorneys. Directly beneath the first of the two seals appeared the designation CERTIFIED CIVIL TRIAL ATTORNEY which, pursuant to R. 1:39-6(c) and RG. 402.3(a), may only be used by attorneys certified as civil trial attorneys by the Board on Attorney Certification of the New Jersey Supreme Court (hereinafter the Board). The designation CERTIFIED CIVIL TRIAL ATTORNEYS also appeared on the right side of the advertisement in a separate column listing the law firm's areas of practice under the heading PERSONAL INJURY. According to the Board, neither [A] nor [B] had ever been certified by the Supreme Court as a civil trial attorney.
Under the second of the two seals appeared the designation CERTIFIED CRIMINAL TRIAL ATTORNEY which, pursuant to R. 1:39-6(c) and RG. 402:3(b), may only be used by attorneys certified as criminal trial attorneys by the Board on Attorney Certification of the New Jersey Supreme Court. The designation CERTIFIED CRIMINAL TRIAL ATTORNEY also appeared on the right side of the advertisement in a separate column listing the law firm's areas of practice under the heading CRIMINAL LAW. Again, neither [A] nor [B] had ever been certified by the Supreme Court as a criminal trial attorney.
As published, the advertisements contained only the last names of Respondents [A] and [B]. Although they made reference to there being 21 EXPERIENCED & DEDICATED ATTORNEYS in the firm, no other names were listed and the clear and unmistakable inference was that one or both of the Respondents was a certified civil trial attorney and/or certified criminal trial attorney. This was particularly true since, as the name partners in the firm, it would not have been unreasonable for a member of the public to assume that they possessed the most experience and were, therefore, the certified attorneys.
Additionally, given the fact that the phrase 21 EXPERIENCED & DEDICATED ATTORNEYS appeared above the statements that there were CERTIFIED CIVIL TRIAL ATTORNEYS and CERTIFIED CRIMINAL TRIAL ATTORNEYS in the firm, it would not have been unreasonable for a member of the public to assume that all of the attorneys in the firm were so certified. Even if one or more of the other attorneys in the firm were certified as civil and/or criminal trial attorneys at the time the advertisement was published, as was in fact the case, the advertisements were, at best, potentially misleading. Consequently, Respondents' failure to include the names of the attorneys in the firm who were certified at the time the advertisements were published constituted an omission of a fact necessary to make the statement[s] considered at a whole not materially misleading in violation of RPC 7.1(a)(1).
Respondents' conduct in including the official seals of the Board on Attorney Certification and the designations CERTIFIED CIVIL TRIAL ATTORNEY and CERTIFIED CRIMINAL TRIAL ATTORNEY in their advertisements when they were not so certified also constituted unethical conduct in violation of RPC 7.4(a). While a lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law, the 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 [the] Rule. Respondents' failure to include the names of the attorneys in the firm who were certified at the time the advertisements were published created the clearly false implication that they were certified as specialists in civil and criminal litigation.
Based upon the foregoing, the Committee holds that attorneys may not advertise or otherwise communicate the fact that attorneys in the firm are certified in any of the areas of certification available from the Supreme Court without also specifically identifying the attorneys who have been so certified.