Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Some lawyers are real scum bags      (part 1)                                       

Despite the heading of this article, there are for the most part, honest lawyers who do a great job representing their clients both in court and out of court. Many of them don’t go out of their way to advertise themselves other than put their names in the Yellow Pages. When I was practicing law, I placed a simple two line ad in Yellow Pages and as the years moved on, almost all of my business came by word of mouth. In the year 2004, I had represented clients in court 68 times. I also had almost the same number of visits by clients attending my office. I didn’t have to advertise with large ads in the Yellow Pages, on streetcars or on TV. I was well aware that if you please your clients, they will refer their friends to you and the business will come to your door.              

Ever since the Law Society of Upper Canada (it governs lawyers in Ontario)  permitted lawyers to advertise, some of them did what many politicians do when they are running for office; they lied about their qualifications in print and on TV.

In this article, I am going to quote word for word an article written by Kenyon Wallace and Michele Henry of the Toronto Star. Their descriptions of the phony ads describing the lawyers and their firms, gives credence to the title of this article in my blog. ((My comments in their article will be in italics) And now, their article.  They have titled it;

Awards appear to have no merit.    

 More than two dozen Ontario personal injury law firms have one amazing characteristic in common: they are all the best at helping victims of car or other accidents.

In the “wild west” world of personal injury law advertising, many lawyers will do what it takes to get business.

Even, as a Star investigation has found, apparently (they) break rules designed to prevent false and misleading advertising. For example, the Law Society of Upper Canada cautions lawyers against stating they are “qualitatively superior” to other lawyers.

Diamond & Diamond’s website proclaims it was “Voted #1 Personal Injury Law Firm in Ontario for 3 years in a row!” (This is in total contradiction of The Law Society’s Rule)

Gary Mazin stamps his website with an award stating “Winner 2014 #1 Toronto Personal Injury Lawyer.” (Another breach)

And until the Star started asking questions (recently with respect to) a website with the address (that) led (them) straight to the Preszler injury firm’s website.

The law society, which regulates lawyers in the province, says they shouldn’t use advertising that is “misleading, confusing or deceptive. In 1987, rules were brought in allowing for ads as long as they were factually verifiable, not false or misleading, and in good taste. The good taste requirement was removed from the rules in 2008 because it was “subjective and difficult to enforce”

In its investigation, the Star found not only that apparent violations of the law society’s rules were widespread, but also that the law society has done little to solve the problem. A law society working group has been grappling with the issue for a year, looking at advertising issues in personal injury, real estate and other areas of law. At the same time, law society investigators are probing 90 complaints involving advertising and referral fee issues, some involving personal injury lawyers

Despite 604 complaints about lawyer and paralegal advertising handled between 2011 and 2015 — 306 of which were initiated by the law society — no lawyers have been disciplined. The law society says most complaints have been resolved through compliance, such as removing or amending the content at issue.

In the past three years, the law society said it has disciplined four paralegals in relation to advertising issues.

Adam Wagman, a personal injury lawyer and president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, which represents about 1,600 personal injury lawyers and staff, said his group wants “to see the rules strengthened to eliminate false and misleading advertising that takes advantage of consumers.”

The law society working group is expected to report back with recommendations later this month. “In Ontario, lawyer advertising appears to have rapidly become ‘big business,’” says a June 2016 report by the working group.

Some “high-volume personal injury law firms” are using mass advertising to get as many clients as possible, keeping some internally and sending others to outside firms in return for referral fees, the report says.

The working group said in its report there is no need to revise the law society’s complaints process or significantly increase enforcement. It is, however, considering an outright ban on lawyers using awards in their marketing campaigns.

In just a few hours of Google searching, the Star was able to find 25 cases of personal injury firms claiming to be either the “No. 1,” the “top” or the “best” law firm. The Star also found 20 examples of other questionable advertising — including firms claiming to have achieved “record-breaking” settlements without any supporting information or disclaimers, and lawyers saying they are “aggressive,” which the law society says may break the rules.

Jeff Preszler, a lawyer at Preszler Law Firm, told the Star that his firm does not own the web address, but that it was a “test site owned by our search engine optimization provider based on frequently searched terms on Google.” The link stopped working after the Star asked Preszler about it.

“I don’t think the name of a domain suggests that somebody is better than the other. It’s just the name of a domain,” Preszler said. (That statement reminds me of a statement by Cicero. He said; “Of all villainy, there is none more base than that of the hypocrite who at the moment he is most false, takes care to appear most virtuous.)  

Another personal injury lawyer, Brian Goldfinger, has recently made some impressive-sounding claims.

Two awards displayed prominently at the top of his website’s home page informed visitors he had been voted “#1 in Client Satisfaction” and “#1 Personal Injury Law Firm” by “Elite Lawyers Ontario.”

The Star researched Elite Lawyers Ontario and did not find a registered business with that name. They did find a website with the URL That was registered in 2015 by a Brian Goldfinger and Goldfinger Law Professional Corp.

Shortly after the lawyer was asked about his Elite Lawyers awards, they disappeared from his website. (If the awards were legitimate, they wouldn’t have been removed from the website.)

These and other claims made by Goldfinger are the subject of a complaint filed with the law society by seven London-based lawyers.

Goldfinger would not answer questions but his lawyer, Gerald Chan, said Goldfinger “has done and continues to do good work for his clients.”

“The law society has made no determination to proceed in respect of the matters raised in the complaint. Out of respect for the law society’s process, we cannot comment further at this time,” Chan, a lawyer at the firm Stockwoods, wrote in an email.

The seven-page complaint by the London-based lawyers includes a picture of a Goldfinger ad that promotes him as “London’s Injury Lawyer.” The complaining lawyers say this is “a false and misleading self-appellation;   given that Brian Goldfinger is not a member of the Middlesex Law Association and his office is located on Sheppard Ave. in Toronto.” (Either a London potential client has to drive hundreds of kilometres to Toronto to meet Goldfinger or alternatively, Goldfinger refers the potential client to another lawyer in London in which Goldfinger gets a piece of the pie as a referral fee)

Radio ads for Goldfinger also claim (that) he is “London’s injury lawyer” and a “Peterborough’s injury lawyer.”

Goldfinger’s website says he has offices in both of these cities. The Star visited the addresses listed and found these “offices” were actually rooms in buildings with executive rental space and no Goldfinger corporate signage. (on the doors.
(His Peterborough telephone number is not listed in the 705 area code for Peterborough. It is a private number listed to his firm in Toronto. I called the number 873-730-1777 and spoke to a woman with an answering service who referred me to another phone in which a voice said that Mr. Goldfinger is either on the phone or out of his office and that I could leave a number for him to return my call.. Then again, Goldfinger might very well refer him to a lawyer in Peterborough so that he can get a referral fee from the other lawyer. However, he says he is willing to send one of his lawyers to a hospital or his home to interview the potential client.)  

The complaint also mentions two logos for the “Million Dollar Advocates Forum” and “Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum” displayed on Goldfinger’s website. The logos are accompanied by a paragraph that says Goldfinger “has won millions and millions of dollars on behalf of his clients both inside, and outside of the courtroom, such that he has been accepted to both the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and the Multi Million Dollar Advocates Forum.”

Both advocates forums are run by a Del Mar, Calif.-based business. To join the “Million Dollar” forum costs $1,200 (U.S.); to upgrade to the “Multi-Million Dollar” forum costs $1,000. Applicants can join both at the same time for $1,700. Along with the payment, lawyers must prove they have won million-dollar or multimillion-dollar verdicts or settlements. The forum was established in 1993 and has more than 4,000 members, according to the organization’s website.

President Don Costello, a San Diego-area medical malpractice lawyer, told the Star the credentials of all potential members are checked before admission. “I make sure people are qualified and we have strict qualifications,” he said.

Costello also said that when lawyers are accepted, they are told they must “comply with their state and country professional ethics requirements.” (It is obvious that Goldfinger has no ethics and if the Million Dollar people haven’t done a thorough background check and it appears they haven’t since they didn’t know about the complaints against Goldfinger, then that organization is in business strictly for the money they get from the lawyers.)    

The law society recommends that lawyers include a disclaimer if they reference settlement amounts in their marketing. At the bottom of his website, Goldfinger, in small letters, notes “Past results are not indicative of future results.” (That statement is a valid statement if anyone can actually read it. It must be so small that you need a microscope to read it because I search his website and didn’t see the words, ““Past results are not indicative of future results.”

(As far as I am concerned, this lawyer is sticking his” gold finger” up each potential client’s ass when he makes his outrageous claims.)  

Many other law firms advertise a wide variety of awards, but it is often unclear what the awards were for or what they meant. The law society’s working group noted law firms do not tell the public that they have, in many cases, paid to receive the award.

The working group’s report says it is “concerned about the use of awards or honours that do not appear to be credible or have merit, and/or cannot be shown to be made on some transparent or objective criteria. Given these significant concerns, the working group has not ruled out proposing that the use of awards in advertising be banned altogether.”

Some firms, such as Diamond & Diamond, feature many awards on their website. Close to the top of its home page, Diamond & Diamond features nine award logos, including a “gold” Toronto Sun Readers’ Choice Awards ribbon. That type of award was raised by the law society’s complaint resolution department back in 2013. The law society’s complaint report noted that Jeremy Diamond, one of the firm’s owners, told them he did not know the specifics as to how the Toronto Sun survey was conducted or results determined. (Yeah and the moon is made of cheese)

The law society noted Diamond’s response “begs the question as to why a law firm would use such an ‘award’ in its advertising when it knows nothing about the methodology or veracity of the alleged results.”

It also said “reliance upon such a conclusion by a newspaper survey in an advertising or marketing program whose purpose is to convince injured members of the public to retain D & D raises questions about the lawyer’s judgment and about his understanding of the rules and their intent.” (In my opinion, it also raises questions about his honesty)

The law society cautioned Diamond and provided “best practices information” to him in 2013.

In a recent submission to the law society, Diamond & Diamond recommended that firms be allowed to voluntarily submit their ads to the society for pre-approval, a suggestion the working group’s June report was silent on.

The Star asked Diamond & Diamond a series of questions regarding its awards and advertising. Managing lawyer Isaac Zisckind did not address the questions directly but said in an email: “Our website provides a list of all awards and accolades given to our firm. We greatly appreciate any public recognition of our firm’s tireless advocacy and unwavering commitment to open and accessible justice for our clients.”

Another lawyer, Gary Mazin, prominently displays an award in the shape of a ribbon that says “Navigate Winner 2014 #1 Toronto Personal Injury Lawyer.”

Shortly after the Star attempted to reach Mazin in mid-January to discuss this claim, the lawyer’s bio on his website was edited to credit the vote to “Navigate Magazine. Mazin did not respond to several interview requests.

Audra Leslie, owner of Graymatter Marketing Solutions, said Mazin was given the award after he sponsored and spoke at “educational sessions” about workplace trends for nurses in hospitals that her company organized. Leslie said Mazin paid between $1,200 and $2,000 (Canadian) per session and sponsored about 15 sessions in 2014.

Following the sessions, Leslie said, nurses were given feedback forms to fill in and they “asked for Gary more than anybody else.”

Leslie’s publication, Navigate Magazine, a health and wellness magazine for nurses, then gave Mazin the award. “For what the award was, he won it fair and square. Is he making it bigger than it is? He absolutely is,” Leslie said.

There are other examples of lawyers making claims that may contravene the law society’s rules.

Personal injury firm Sokoloff Lawyers notes that it offers services in 29 languages and bills itself as “Toronto’s Top Multi-Ethnic Firm.”

Firm founder Wendy Sokoloff did not respond to the Star’s questions about her advertising.

The Sokoloff firm’s website also features a celebrity endorsement from famed American interviewer Larry King.

“Got hurt? Use her!” says a quote attributed to King in a banner at the top of the site. The banner contains a link to a 20-minute video in which King interviews Sokoloff.

During their chat, King asks the lawyer many questions about personal injury law, including if she advertises. Sokoloff responds that she does “advertise somewhat, not as much or as frequently as other lawyers.” She then provides King with her phone number, which is 416-966-HURT “to make it easy.”

At the end of the interview, King tells Sokoloff, “Wendy, I salute you in the work you do.” He then turns to face the camera and says: “Wendy Sokoloff from Ontario, Canada. You get hurt, use her.”

The Star has found no evidence to suggest that King, who lives in Beverly Hills, has ever retained Sokoloff Lawyers. (That means that King was in no position to tell his viewers that Sokoloff is a good lawyer)

King’s agent has not responded to requests for comment.

Wagman, the president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, said people should not rely solely on advertising to find a lawyer. (He’s got that right)

“They should also speak to others with experience in their community who can help to guide them,” Wagman said. “Finding a lawyer who is the right fit might be one of the most important decisions they make.”

Paul Harte, a medical malpractice lawyer and a past president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, calls the state of legal marketing today “the wild west.” He says he provided the law society with examples of what he called “blatant transgressions” of the rules in 2014.

Harte said the law society has taken a reactive approach to regulation, largely enforcing the rules only when a complaint is made.

“This puts the onus on the public and other lawyers to call out questionable conduct and permits unscrupulous lawyers to use misleading and unprofessional advertising, so long as no one files a formal complaint,” Harte said. “That is not in the public interest.”

That is the end of the Toronto Star’s article

I hope you have learned a great deal from that Star article, Choosing to do business with a lawyer who inflates the quality of his or her business or the number of branches that don't actually exist  is just as bad as playing that old game, “The pea under the cup.” Now you see it and now you don’t. Quite frankly, I personally wouldn’t use the services of any of these law firms because I would be suspicious with respect to their honesty. Anyone who lies about his or her references or number of branches is someone who you can’t really trust. 

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