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Partners receive public reprimand for ads' use

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Two partners in the Indianapolis law firm Benkie & Crawford received public reprimands from the Indiana Supreme Court Thursday for attorney misconduct in their advertisements for legal services.

In the combined disciplinary actions of the attorneys, In the matter of: Scott A. Benkie; In the Matter of: Douglas A. Crawford, Nos. 49S00-0402-DI-82 and 49S00-0402-DI-83, the Disciplinary Commission charged them with violating Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 7.2(b), 7.2(c)(3), 7.2(d)(2), and 7.3(c) because of wording in two of their firm's brochures to solicit clients.

In one brochure, the phrase "commitment to obtaining the best possible legal settlement for you and your family" was included as well as the term "Legal Advertisement." That was later changed to "Advertising Material." The brochures were filed with the Disciplinary Commission as required by Rule 7.3(c); the attorneys never received a letter from the commission advising them to change the language, as the commission sometimes will notify lawyers when changes need to be made.

The Supreme Court found the attorneys didn't violate Rule 7.2(c)(3) or 7.2(b) with the phrase "commitment to obtaining the best possible legal settlement" because the phrase only promises prospective clients a commitment to their cases, not that the attorneys can obtain the best possible settlement.

But the attorneys did violate the rules regarding use of a public communication containing statistical data or other information based on past performance or prediction of success and the solicitation of professional employment without the words "Advertising Material." The use of quotes from newspapers on their performance isn't allowed because the information could be edited and selectively used to mislead clients. The use of "Legal Advertisement" on earlier brochures was a violation because it may give the impression the commission or another body had reviewed it and found it to be "legal."

The Supreme Court found the fact the attorneys sought advice from the commission regarding their advertising materials mitigates the degree of their culpability; however, the rule requiring the filing of advertising materials with the commission doesn't require the commission to review materials for violations. The court noted that the requirement encourages self-policing by attorneys and preserves a record of the advertisement in case there is a dispute.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justices Brent Dickson and Theodore Boehm concurred while Justices Frank Sullivan and Robert Rucker concurred, except they would have found no violation of Ind. Prof. Cond. R. 7.2(d)(2).

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