The Indiana Supreme Court privately reprimanded a Lake County attorney Friday for making misleading communications regarding legal services and not including his office address in a public communications. The charges stem from his affiliation with a national for-profit organization that franchises its registered trademarks, including “Law Tigers,” to law firms around the country.
The anonymous respondent entered into a three-year license agreement with the American Association of Motorcycle Injury Lawyers Inc. to be an exclusive licensee for Indiana. AAMIL was obligated to make sure that all calls to the Law Tigers toll-free number seeking legal assistance in the attorney’s area were automatically routed to the firm.
The respondent could also be contacted through AAMIL’s Law Tiger’s website, which identified respondent and his firm as the Law Tigers for his territory. This website contained examples of previous results obtained by other Law Tiger attorneys and testimonials. Visitors could be put directly in contact with respondent’s firm and could bypass his firm’s website.
The respondent also distributed AAMIL-produced information, which contained a toll-free number for the Law Tigers service and its website, but did not include the address of the respondent’s firm.
The Disciplinary Commission alleged the respondent violated five rules, but the hearing officer only found respondent violated two rules. The Indiana justices agreed with the hearing officer that respondent violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 7.1, making false or misleading communications regarding services, e.g., statistical data, information based on past performance, testimonials; and 7.2(c), failing to include an office address in a public communication.
The average viewer would not differentiate between respondent and the statements about Law Tigers on the AAMIL website and that the attorney is therefore responsible for the objectionable content on the website, the per curiam opinion states in In the Matter of: Anonymous, 45S00-1301-DI-33. It does not matter that respondent’s own website does not violate any of the rules charged.
Respondent also should have included his office address in the material he distributed.
The court found the following facts in mitigation: Respondent has no history of prior discipline in nearly 41 years of practice; he has cooperated fully with the commission; he exercised due diligence before entering into a contractual relationship with AAMIL in attempting to determine whether the relationship would violate any professional conduct rule; and his own website provided disclaimers regarding the content of the Law Tigers website.
He is ordered to pay a $250 fee and half of the costs of the proceeding.