“Lawyers of Distinction”: just another scam

Portland attorney Andy Green, a graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School, is a “Lawyer of Distinction”.  So are attorneys Justin Johnson of Hillsboro, Usman Mughal of Lake Oswego, Jason Short of Salem and Bryan Donahue of Bend. They are among 48 Oregon attorneys who have been designated “Lawyers of Distinction.”

Usman Mughal was even featured in a large display ad in the Sept. 6, 2020 edition of the New York Times that congratulated a number of Lawyers of Distinction as “2020 Power Lawyers” being “recognized for their competency in jurisprudence and reputation amongst their peers.”

New York Times ad, Sept. 6, 2020

Impressed? Don’t be. 

About all that’s required to be named a “Lawyer of Distinction” is to apply yourself or be nominated, fill out some online forms and pay a fee. It’s like diploma mills, companies or organizations that claim to be a higher education institution but only provide illegitimate academic degrees and diplomas for a fee.

“There’s a sucker born every minute,” is a phrase often attributed to P. T. Barnum, an American showman. It’s apparently true with respect to the attorneys who buy “Lawyers of Distinction” memberships as well as members of the public who are misled by them.

The Lawyers of Distinction website makes the application and review process sound complex. 

According to the website, it includes a review and vetting process by a Selection Committee. That involves an analysis of a candidate’s work, experience and abilities based upon 12 independent criteria using a platform spelled out under U.S. Provisional Patent #62/743,254. Once a final score is generated, an applicant is subjected a final background check and Ethics Review. Applicants who achieve a minimum passing score and have no disqualifying ethical violations within a 10-year period prior to completion of the application are then eligible for acceptance to Lawyers of Distinction.

Sounds tough and thorough.

Don’t believe it.

 Essentially, it’s just pay-for-play. It’s selling badges.  It’s paying for meaningless accolades. Apply, pay the annual membership fee and you’re in.

The annual cost, automatically renewed every year unless cancelled: Charter membership – $475; Featured membership – $575; Distinguished Membership – $775. The company says its most popular membership is Distinguished, its most expensive. That provides:

  • A link to the attorney’s website from the Lawyers of Distinction website
  • A profile page with the attorney’s picture and a link to the lawyer’s website
  • A national press release announcing the honor
  • A members-only Facebook private group
  • Discounts at national vendors including Hertz, Avis and Hilton
  • Brochures with inserts for a business card to display
  • Access to free online CLE courses
  • Use of the Lawyers of Distinction logo and trademarked materials
  • A customized 14”- 11” plaque
  • An 11” tall customized crystal statue attorneys can display to highlight their expertise. 

Conrad Saam, owner and founder of Mockingbird Marketing in Seattle, tested the membership vetting process at Lawyers of Distinction by applying for membership as his child’s pet chicken, Zippy. “Surely their ‘rigorous review process’ would disqualify a 3 1/2 month old Golden Wyandotte,” he theorized.  

Saam started by getting an email address for Zippy through Yahoo. Then he used an alias to nominate Zippy DeShickeen. He quickly received notification that Zippy had been nominated, but he chose not to send in the membership fee.  

“Surely they wanted to know more information about Zippy,” Saam wrote. “What about the background checks?  Independent Research? and Zippys scholarly writings?  Verdicts… Settlements…. Bar Certifications?  Surely that would follow in the next phase of the process; at a minimum, LOD would want to know what state Zippy was licensed in? a bar number? or a release to perform the background check?  Some of her awards?  Some bio information? But alas, the application required nothing more than a name, address and a domain.

Some lawyers at the Davis Law Group in Seattle decided to play the game, too. In 2019, they nominated Lucy, the office’s 5-pound teacup poodle, and paid the membership fee. Lucy didn’t go to law school, but she passed her state ‘bark exam, the law firm said, and had been recognized by the legal community as a ‘top dog’.

Lucy, a Lawyer of Distinction

Lucy was accepted by Lawyers of Distinction as one of the top 10% of attorneys in the country. Lawyers of Distinction even tweeted a welcome message to her. Lucy was thrilled.  See Lucy’s acceptance speech.

According to the Florida Division of Corporations, “Lawyers of Distinction Inc.” is a private for-profit company with a principal address of 4700 Millenia Boulevard, Suite 175, Orlando, FL 32839.

Robert (Robbie) Brian Baker at the same address is listed as the President in the company’s 2020 Annual Report. But don’t go there expecting to be ushered into an office with a clean, modern aesthetic that communicates success. The address is identified online as only a virtual office.

Robert B. Baker, President, Lawyers of Distinction Inc.

Baker, a member of the Florida Bar, is also the founder and owner of Baker Legal Team in Boca Raton, Florida. A 1989 graduate of Boston University School of Law, he focuses on representing plaintiffs in cases relating to personal injury, wrongful death, auto accidents, medical malpractice and product liability. 

Lawyers of Distinction’s website says it has “over 5000 vetted lawyers.” If 5000 lawyers signed up for the Distinguished category at $775 a year, Baker’s company will rake in $3,875,000 in 2020. Quite a haul.

Lawyers of Distinction tries to quell doubts about its legitimacy by including on its website a section headed, “Is Lawyers of Distinction A Scam? With Over 5000 Members, See What Lawyers Have To Say.” But all the section contains are a few member comments and ratings, such as, “Wonderful professional organization. Very nice looking materials. Bob Goldberg – February 12, 2020.”

It’s likely that few attorneys have been duped by Lawyers of Distinction, lured into believing they’ve been selected for a rare honor based on their legal work. They must figure that impressing potential clients is worth the chronic mendacity and deception.

And they’re probably encouraged by Lawyers of Distinction advertisements that appear even in the respected ABAJournal, the flagship publication of the American Bar Association that claims to be “read by half of the nation’s 1 million lawyers every month”.

Lawyers of Distinction ad in the ABAJournal

If it’s advertised in the ABAJournal it must be legit and an acceptable marketing tool, right?

But the widespread use of Lawyers of Distinction by American attorneys really just represents the decay of honest professional representation. If the ABA, and state bar associations such as the Oregon State Bar, really cared about lawyers’ clients they would be cracking down on such misleading marketing ploys, not promoting them.

And if an attorney ballyhoos their selection as a Lawyer of Distinction, beware. They are living in a world of unearned praise.

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