Super Lawyers' Response to New Jersey Opinion 39
The following was written in 2006 from the Super Lawyers Publisher at the time, Bill White.
An Open Letter to Attorneys Listed in New Jersey Super Lawyers
As you may know, on July 19th, the New Jersey Committee on Attorney Advertising published its Opinion No. 39 on the Super Lawyers process and attorneys' rights to participate in that process. If you have not done so already, I encourage you to read the opinion here.
Not surprisingly, we disagree with every aspect of the Committee's opinion and intend to challenge it with every means at our disposal. While we are still weighing those options, they include a request for the Committee's reconsideration in light of facts that were not before the Committee, a petition for review by the New Jersey Supreme Court, and a civil action in federal court.
Since its creation in 1991, Super Lawyers has been successfully introduced in 31 states across the country. In New Jersey, Super Lawyers was introduced in 2005 and, as in other states, has proven to be a useful and accessible tool for sophisticated consumers of legal services.
Super Lawyers lies well within the body of legal precedent and opinion, beginning with the 1977 U.S. Supreme Court case of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, that severely limits a state's ability to restrict truthful commercial speech by and about attorneys. Our understanding is, quite simply, that a state cannot, without truly compelling justification, restrict lawyers' ability to direct information to consumers of legal services. We believe that the Committee's Opinion No. 39 is an unreasonable attack on our First Amendment rights and on the First Amendment rights of the lawyers who wish to participate in the Super Lawyers process.
Further, we believe the process by which the Committee reached its opinion was flawed, largely because it was based upon faulty information about the Super Lawyers evaluation process. The Committee's lack of knowledge on this point is simple to understand in that we were never contacted or asked to participate in the Committee's review and deliberations. Had it chosen to do so, we are confident that the factual record would have addressed any concerns or misapprehensions on the part of the Committee.
As you may know, Super Lawyers has a very thorough quantitative and qualitative selection process that includes the following:
* An annual ballot to all active attorneys in the relevant state who are licensed for 5 years or more. Parenthetically, we have procedures and systems in place to detect and manage manipulation attempts.
* An annual search during which we seek out candidates who should be considered but have not been identified through the balloting process. This search includes the use of professional databases and sources, the review of local and national legal journals and interviews with managing partners and marketing directors of law firms in each jurisdiction. Heretofore, we have not publicized these interviews in order to protect the participants from politicking.
* A review of candidates by the attorneys with demonstrated expertise in the various areas of law. For example, antitrust candidates are evaluated by attorneys whose primary specialty is antitrust.
* Extensive in-house research during which each candidate is scored on a 12-point evaluation of peer recognition and professional achievement.
For all attorneys selected for inclusion in Super Lawyers, we also check their standing with the bar, we obtain from them verification they are not subject to disciplinary proceedings or other legal action. Finally, we do a web search on each attorney to assure there are no outstanding matters that would reflect adversely on them.
Those named in the Super Lawyers publications are chosen based entirely on this process and not on the basis of any paid consideration. Lawyers cannot pay to be selected for inclusion in Super Lawyers; they cannot pay to be editorially featured. And of course, lawyers cannot vote for themselves.
Further, our marketing of the Super Lawyers publication, including the distinction between editorial and advertising content, is direct, transparent and consistent with common practice and professional standards.
Super Lawyers rankings, like other rankings in the legal industry and in other professions, provide an important and useful service to the public. Our product provides an objective and qualitative data point for consideration when choosing an attorney, benefiting consumers, attorneys and the profession. In this way, the Super Lawyers rankings complement other resources available to consumers, including personal and professional recommendations and referrals.
I invite you to visit our website - www.superlawyers.com - for more information on our process and updates on this matter. Our intention in this matter is to be forthright, transparent, responsive and adamant in our defense of our rights to conduct our business, consistent with the protections afforded by fundamental constitutional guarantees, and in your rights to participate.
Thank you for your interest in this matter. I would welcome your comments on this topic.
P.S. I have taken the liberty of appending an e-mail from Will Hornsby on this subject that was posted yesterday to the Legal Marketing Association's listserv discussion group. As you may know, Mr. Hornsby is one of the most prominent and thoughtful experts anywhere on the subject of legal marketing and his thoughts on this matter make for useful reading.