The Super Lawyer moniker is the invention of the Minnesota magazine Law & Politics, and it’s become a nationwide sensation, an annual ad supplement that now runs in publications in 31 states and provides the attorneys so designated with a new tool for promoting themselves.
But New Jersey has a warning for lawyers who want to advertise their super status: “Fuhgeddaboudit.”
Last month, a committee appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that lawyers there can’t advertise themselves as “super” or “best” because it violates the state’s rules of professional conduct.
“These self-aggrandizing titles have the potential to lead an unwary consumer to believe that the lawyers so described are … superior to their colleagues,” the New Jersey Committee on Attorney Advertising wrote.
The impact extends beyond New Jersey. The decision could threaten millions of dollars in ad revenue for Minneapolis-based Key Professional Media Inc., headed by local publisher Vance Opperman, which publishes Super Lawyers and Law & Politics.
“If this decision stands, it could put us out of business,” said Super Lawyers publisher Bill White.
Each year, lawyers are surveyed and the results are published in a supplement packed with self-congratulatory ads from attorneys and their firms. The supplements appear as stand-alone publications or as inserts in city magazines and other media, most recently in the New York Times.
White said the selection process invites any lawyer with five years of practice to cast a ballot.
“Our research department then scans for lawyers who may have been overlooked,” he said. “Then we evaluate each candidate based on 12 criteria which we developed.”
Many Super Lawyers use the designation to market themselves.
But the New Jersey panel found that “this simplistic use of a media-generated sound bite title clearly has the capacity to materially mislead the public.”
If the decision stands, New Jersey lawyers will have to remove those designations from their marketing materials, everything from Yellow Pages ads to Web sites.
Since its inception in 1991, Super Lawyers has become a multimillion-dollar enterprise operating in 31 states, and expects to extend its reach to all 50 states by the next of next year.
White, who’s also the publisher of Law & Politics, said he’s received calls from attorneys around the country worried about advertising in future Super Lawyers supplements.
“They’re all worried because of their connections to New Jersey,” White said. “They have clients there, or even law firm partners who are licensed there.”