If you have been involved in a car crash you have probably been besieged by a large volume of advertising literature by lawyers offering to represent you, whether or not you were injured. You could reforest the Pinelands with all of the paper used for this event-specific attorney advertising. Attorneys, and other professionals, such as chiropractors, doctors ,and therapists ,obtain your name from police accident reports, which are public records and are available to everyone, including you.

While I believe that the public benefits very little and, in fact, is actually harmed by this event-specific advertising, in fairness, it is completely ethical under New Jersey’s Rules of Professional Conduct, as long as the letter contains certain mandatory wording.

However, just because attorney advertising is ethical does not mean that the public benefits from it or that it is good for the legal profession. I believe that this "in your face" event-specific advertising by lawyers hurts the public rather than helps it. First, this type of advertising actually has a profound impact in polluting the minds of potential jurors about meritorious cases of legitimate accident victims who bring lawsuits to recover damages in personal injury cases. Second, it lowers the professional image of attorneys in the public eye, which is already low. It makes us appear like starved, let-me-capitalize-on-your-misfortune opportunists.

When the public is deluged by event-specific attorney advertising, it contributes to an image of a system that produces large numbers of unnecessary lawsuits, which in turn makes the public and jurors skeptical of the motives of the litigants and the lawyers who bring these cases and want a jury to decide them.

For example, several weeks ago, my son David and I tried the personal injury case of a very nice client who suffered two disc herniations in a car accident. When a jury is selected, the lawyers for each side have an opportunity to "voir dire" or question each potential juror, with the judge present, and out of the presence of the other potential jurors to ensure the privacy of their opinions. During this particular selection process, the recurring theme among the lion’s share of jurors questioned was that there are too many personal injury lawsuits.

Thus, when the public is swamped by this type of advertising, it becomes conditioned to believe that these cases are driven by litigants and lawyers who are insincere. This, in turn, contributes to jurors denying recompense to many legitimately injured people. Therefore, if you are ever injured in an accident, these perceptions can harm you, a loved on, or friend who needs a jury to resolve their case. Instead of being open minded and objective, many jurors see the victims of accidents as overreaching and suing for unjustifiable damages.

The ethics of event-specific advertising do have to be balanced against freedom of commercial speech. My son and I are proud members of the New Jersey Association for Justice, an organization of plaintiff trial lawyers who fight to preserve the rights of accident victims. We are against event-specific advertising. We have requested the New Jersey Supreme Court to prohibit event-specific advertising for a period of 30 days after an accident occurs. The reason is to provide a cooling off period to enable victims of accidents to attend to their injuries without being overwhelmed by lawyers hunting for clients. Under this reform, accident victims will retain the opportunity to choose attorneys at any time within the first 30 days after an accident, in a way that they choose.

If you are injured in a car accident and receive event specific advertisements from attorneys seeking to represent you, consider recycling it and not using an attorney who engages in this practice. This is the most logical way to discourage this type of advertising.

Selecting an attorney to represent you in any matter is an important decision. If you don’t know an attorney who handles accident cases, ask a family member, friend, or a doctor. Research attorneys through the Internet, print media, yellow pages, or billboards.

All attorneys who do personal injury work offer a free consultation, so talk to a couple and select the one with whom you feel the best chemistry. Finally, but perhaps most important, select a Certified Civil Trial Lawyer to represent you in a personal injury claim, whether it’s a car crash, a fall, a construction accident, a dog bite, or a medical malpractice case. The attorneys certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court have documented a career as a trial lawyer, have to have tried a certain number of cases, and pass a rigorous written test. Only about 2 per cent of attorneys in New Jersey have this qualification.

Gerald D. Siegel, Esq. practices law with his son, David A. Siegel, Esq. at Siegel & Siegel, PC in Plainsboro, New Jersey. He is certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a Civil Trial Lawyer. He has practiced personal injury law for more than 32 years. He can be contacted at 609-799-6066 or by e-mail at gsiegel@nj-negligencelawyer.com His URL is: www.nj-negligencelawyer.com.

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