I’ve written here pretty frequently about issues of lawyer advertising. I am too lazy today to try and go find links to other posts of mine in which I have stated that the overwhelming majority of disciplinary complaints filed over lawyer advertisements are filed by other lawyers. Not always competitors, sometimes lawyers on the other side of the v, but just about always by lawyers.
While that remains true, it is rare that you ever see one lawyer or law firm sue another lawyer or law firm over advertising. Earlier this month, one such lawsuit was filed. That lawsuit is captioned Brave Law Firm, LLC v. Truck Accident Lawyers Group, Inc. et al. and was filed in federal court in Kansas. Here is link to the lawsuit (07914726612 brave law firm) if you desire to go read the whole thing.
There are lots of reasons why such lawsuit filings are infrequent. The fact that in order to come up with a claim for damages a firm is likely going to have to demonstrate losing some clients to the other firm that can be traced to the advertisements in question is usually a pretty solid reason not to do it. Instead, it is much simpler for a firm or lawyer who wants to complaint to file a disciplinary complaint because any rules infractions won’t turn on whether or not your firm was actually harmed by what the other lawyer was doing.
This suit though provides the basis for the roadmap that you’d see in terms of causes of action for such a lawsuit, including a Lanham Act claim and the relevant state law claim for tortious interference with a business relationship.
What makes the lawsuit a particularly interesting read, however, is that it levels its attacks against advertisements that defendant lawyer’s firms have made about past successes but it does not involve exactly the kind of complaints you often expect hear made about such things. It does not undertake an assault on the advertisements as being misleading because advertising that you obtained a multi-million dollar recovery for a litigant might arguable mislead a potential client into thinking that such outcomes are achievable in their case as well.
Instead, it challenges the very veracity of the advertised outcomes themselves. The core allegations from the Complaint in this regard are as follows:
29. As one recent example, Defendants Brad Pistotnik and Brad Pistotnik Law, P.A. ran a series of advertisements touting their alleged results [NB: you can see an actual screenshot in the complaint itself but I have not included it]
30. The disclaimer at the bottom of the screen is consistent with the content of the entire ad and explicitly states that the “Amounts are gross recovery before fees and expenses.”
31. Instead, the actual “gross recovery” before fees and expenses was $387,018.00, or 16% of what was advertised.
32. This advertisement is literally false because there was no “gross recovery” of $2,400,000 by any person(s) in the case referenced in the advertisement, either before or after legal fees and expenses.
33. In addition, this advertisement is literally false as it advises the viewer that “Our past performances are no guarantee of future results” when, in fact, the “past performance” referenced in the advertisement never happened at all.
35. As another example, all of the Defendants widely disseminated advertisements claiming that they obtained a jury verdict of $4,100,000 in a personal injury case.
36. This same advertisement also advised that the jury awarded a punitive damage award of $2,500,000 to the alleged client.
37. These advertisements were, and are, literally false as the “gross recovery” in that case was approximately $850,000.00 and the jury did not award any punitive damages to the plaintiffs.
38. Other advertisements ran by the Defendants featured other literally false “gross recoveries” via alleged verdicts including ones for $1,100,000, $845,000, and $401,000.00.
39. In addition to advertising alleged “gross recoveries” via jury verdicts that never actually happened, the Defendants also advertised purported settlements that never happened.
40. As one example, all of the Defendants advertised that they had settled a case for $9,000,000 on behalf of a former client.
41. This settlement did not happen as advertised because Defendant Bradley A. Pistotnik and the AAPLO had been terminated by the client prior to the settlement occurring and the settlement was actually obtained by another lawyer, apparently
in another state, but at various times each of the Defendants has claimed it as their own.
Obviously, if such facts could be proven, then disciplinary exposure for the lawyer responsible for such advertisements would be in the mix as well and, might I add, would be within the ambit of the kind of more limited, and more focused, ethics rules on lawyer advertising that are being advocated for adoption as a revision to the ABA Model Rules.
Given that the complaint reads like someone has provided the Brave Law Firm with some significant behind-the-scenes knowledge, it appears possible that there could be more interesting developments arising if this suit moves forward. For example, I’d be interested to know if someone previously employed by one of the defendants now works for the plaintiff. Unless the Brave firm got all of this information from people free to share it, then one would think potential counterclaims could get thrown into the mix in the future.