Ethics Dunce: The American Bar Association

What do you call an esteemed legal organization that willfully encourages its members to violate its own ethics rules? There are two acceptable answers: 1) An Ethics Dunce, and 2) The American Bar Association.

That is a screenshot above of an email that arrived yesterday.

Congratulations on Your 2023 nomination,” it began. “This year marks our 9 year anniversary of “Recognizing Excellence in the Practice of Law™”. Our Selection Committee is hereby extending to you an invitation to join this elite group¹.  Accept your invitation and join by May 23rd, and your name will be included in our roster announcements published in “The National Law Journal” and the Sunday “The New York Times” print edition on May 28th. Please note that only 56 spots remain available. Less than 1% of lawyers in the United States are recognized as Lawyers of Distinction.”

I am many things, but a “lawyer of distinction” I am not. I haven’t practiced law for more than a decade; legal ethics is not the practice of law. Lawyers of Distinction is, to cut to the chase, a scam, and one that is used by lawyers to deceive clients. For the National Law Journal to provide cover for the unethical advertising scheme is bad, but a while back the ABA included an advertisement for “Lawyers of Distinction” in the ABA Journal. The ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, followed by most jurisdictions, specifically forbids misleading and deceptive advertising, which a lawyer announcing that he or she was “chosen” as a “lawyer of distinction” definitely is. The association attracted a lot of criticism for running the ad, and may not have sunk so low again: I don’t know, because I no longer receive the ABA Journal, but once was enough for me.

Blogger William Peacock, a lawyer himself, writes in part,

“…it’s about the clients, stupid. Ethics rules universally prohibit false or misleading advertising. Buying fake awards and plastering them on your site to get more clients is deceiving consumers. It is false advertising. It is unethical, especially if you know it is a scam, or if you have a nagging suspicion. American Institute is worse than Lawyers of Distinction in this regard – at least LOD is a generic-enough moniker to be harmless. (I’m a distinct lawyer! As my momma would say, “Shit fire and save matches!”)”

It took me exactly six second after I saw the LOD email yesterday to google “Lawyers of Distinction scam” and the predictable results popped up. The ABA and the National Law Journal had to know it was a scam too.

For your entertainment, here’s the very fine print explanation of how your host was chosen as a “lawyer of distinction”:

“¹Lawyers of Distinction Members have been selected based upon a review and vetting process by our Selection Committee utilizing U.S. Provisional Patent # 62/743,254. The platform generates a numerical score of 1 to 5 for each of the 12 enumerated factors which are meant to recognize the applicant’s achievements and peer recognition. Members are then subject to a final review for ethical violations within the past ten years before confirmation of Membership. Nomination does not guarantee membership and attorneys may not pay a fee to be nominated. Attorneys may nominate their peers whom they feel warrant consideration. The determination of whether an attorney qualifies for Membership is based upon the aforementioned proprietary analysis discussed above. Membership is not meant to infer any endorsement of Lawyers of Distinction by any of the 50 United States Bar Associations or The District of Columbia Bar Association. Any references to “excellent,” “excellence,” or “distinguished” are meant to refer to the Lawyers of Distinction organization only and not to any named member individually.”


19 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: The American Bar Association

  1. “Any references to “excellent,” “excellence,” or “distinguished” are meant to refer to the Lawyers of Distinction organization only and not to any named member individually.”

    In my opinion, that sentence in context with this from the email you received “Congratulations on Your 2023 nomination,” … “This year marks our 9 year anniversary of “Recognizing Excellence in the Practice of Law™”. is a genuine signature significance whopper!

  2. Well Benjamin Crump is certainly distinct in the sense of he “stands out.” He shows up at a white on black cop shooting within minutes of its occurrence. Ergo, he is a lawyer of distinction.

    I never understood the AV rating system. It always struck me as lawyers scratching each other’s backs. Mostly litigators designating other litigators as “good guys.” A scam.

  3. Anyone want to make an over/under bet on whether I could become a lawyer of distinction? I mean… I’m not a lawyer and I don’t have the right degree to even attempt the bar, but I have money and a suit.

  4. Not surprisingly, a provisional patent, per se, does not exist. It is a provisional patent **application** number they quote. These are mere placeholders to get an early USPTO filing date and they cannot issue to a patent. Rather the applicant has 12 months to file a formal U.S. patent application to claim a domestic benefit of the earlier filed provisional application. The application numbers run sequentially and I understand the number quoted was issued some years ago (2018, I think).

    Anyone can file a provisional application that purports to claim an invention to anything because such applications are not examined by the USPTO. They are just put on file for a nominal fee and expire at the 1 year anniversary. It is only the formal application that is examined and that can be issued as a patent.

    I could file a provisional patent application and claim I was an ethics expert who analyzes advertisements based on N factors and an X point scale. I could file a provisional patent application that claims I am a Lawyer of Distinction, even though I am not a U.S. lawyer.

  5. “What does this email have to do with the ABA?” wrote a pending new commenter. I would respond, “It is always best to READ a post before complaining about it,” but that would require me to let this boob to make more comments.

    • For what it is worth, I kind of had the same question.

      It sounds like the ABA advertised it once (not sure how long ago), got a bunch of flak for it, and may not have done it again.

      If they did learn the error of their ways, aren’t they no longer a dunce?

      Or, did I miss something?


      • They advertised it at least once, and once is too many. The ad was a two-page fold-out for a product designed to deceive clients, encouraging lawyers to violate the ABA’s own ethics rules. Since the ABA couldn’t figure out on its own that this was a breach of integrity, people had to point it out to them. If someone has to point out that what you did was obviously hypocritical and contradicted your own standards, and you hold yourself out as the arbiter of professional ethics in your field, then you remain an ethics dunce. The ABA has to be told that encouraging its members to violate its rules in exchange for ad fees is wrong? That’s enough for me.

        And one of many reasons I don’t belong to the ABA, distinguished lawyer that I am.

  6. This reminds me of those Who’s Who in college or business. The print your name in a book and get you to buy it.

    Every time I saw a resume with a Who’s Who credential it went into the circular file. Using it tells me the person needs unwarranted affirmation and will be one needing constant reinforcement without which the employee will work to undermine team cohesiveness.

  7. Funny Juxtaposition – In Canada, the College of Pharmacists *does not* allow pharmacies to advertise that your products are better, that your service is better, or that your pharmacists or techs are in any way shape or form even different than any other pharmacist or tech. This is because everyone’s pills should be the same, and in theory, pharmacists should be interchangeable. Have to admit, entering into that market was a learning experience, and I ended up getting a couple of sternly worded letters.

    At the end of the day, Pharmacy ads are either “we exist” or “here are our rebate/loyalty programs”, which is basically the only differentiator allowed.

  8. This brings to mind emails I get offering to me a plaque showing my PTIN number or put me in a directory of tax preparers.
    A PTIN is an identification number that the IRS assigns to people who prepare tax returns for pay who are not CPA, attorneys, enrolled agents or other profession that includes the right to practice before the IRS.
    You don’t have to pass a test to get it, although IRS charges a fee, but you must take at least 18 hours of continuing education each year to maintain your status. And I believe the IRS maintains a publicly accessible database of PTIN holders.
    I’ve always felt that companies that offer these type of products are, at best, a bit shady.

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