You read that right. If you are injured in New York, whether in New York City, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo or the Southern Tier, do NOT hire a lawyer who claims to be a “specialist” or “specialized” in New York personal injury. Why? Because if the lawyer you hire calls himself a “specialist” in New York personal injury law he or she is either (1) an idiot or (2) unethical or (3) both.
Why an idiot? Because if he is in fact a New York personal injury lawyer he should know that New York’s lawyer advertising rules prohibit him from holding himself out to be a “specialist” in personal injury law. If he is not an idiot, he is just plain unethical. Why unethical? Because if he knows the law (as he should) he is deliberately violating New York’s legal advertising rules. That’s unethical.
A lawyer in New York can’t say she is a “specialist” in personal injury claims, nor can she say she is an “expert” in personal injury law or claims. Those two words (“specialist” and “expert”) are verboten. What lawyers can say is that they “handle” or “concentrate” in personal injury claims, or that they don’t do anything but personal injury cases, or even that they do nothing but live, breath, think and dream about personal injury cases. But “specialize” and “expertise” are not allowed.
What’s the reason for this rule? The New York lawyer ethics watchdogs believe that the words “specialist” or “expert” implies some kind of certification or license. Personal injury lawyers don’t have a special degree beyond the basic juris doctorate (the degree you get after you complete law school and pass the bar exam). They gain their knowledge and expertise in personal injury litigation on the fly, in the courtroom, by working with senior lawyers who have concentrated on this particular area. The concern is that the public will believe the lawyer has some kind of special degree in personal injury law, which is untrue.
Let me be clear: I personally believe I, and my law firm, are “specialized” in New York personal injury law. I also believe we are “experts” in personal injury claims in New York. After all, we’ve been doing almost nothing else for the last 50 years! Nevertheless, I would never advertise myself or my law firm to be “experts” or a “specialists” in New York personal injury cases. (Oops, did I just do that now?) If I did, that would demonstrate my ignorance (of the law) or my unethical breach of the law. (Attention law advertising police: I hereby rescind everything I just said in this paragraph!).
Interestingly, in recent years, many personal injury lawyers hold themselves out to be not just “personal injury” lawyers, but claim to belong to some kind of subspecies of personal injury lawyers, such as “bike accident lawyer”, “car accident lawyer”, “motor accident lawyer”, “construction accident lawyer”, etc. Yes, the world is becoming more and more specialized. But honestly, any good personal injury lawyer can and does handle all kinds of injury cases. The rules for proving negligence are generally the same no matter the vehicle or manner of the injury, and if they differ, the difference is easy to discover with minimal legal research. Claims by lawyers that they are sub-specialized (oops, I used that word!) in some niche area of personal injury law is mostly just a marketing gimmick. Those lawyers will usually handle any type of personal injury case that comes along, as long as it looks promising.
Speaking of marketing gimmicks, sometimes the area of personal injury law a lawyer advertises for seems to have more to do with the name they happen to have been born with than anything else. You can probably think of some local examples you see on TV where the lawyer’s name rhymes with the kind of personal injury law they claim to concentrate in. I once saw a motorcycle with a sticker on it from a lawyer named “Joe Brown”. Below his name, the sticker read, “If you’re down, call Brown”.
Since my first name is Mike, I suppose I could compete with Mr. Brown with an ad that proclaimed, “If you’re hurt on your bike, call Mike”. Heck, that would bring in both the motorcycle and the bicycle cases! Or, since my last name is Bersani, I could advertise for cases involving salami. “If you are hurt by a flying salami, call Bersani”.
Believe it or not, all those gimmicky name-rhyming ads are”ethical” under New York attorney advertising law. But if I claimed to be an “expert” in, or that I”specialize” in, salami injury cases, well, any way you slice it, that’s unethical!
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Syracuse NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.