Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers ‘improperly marketed’ legal services, law society alleges

Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers ‘improperly marketed’ legal services, law society alleges
Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers ‘improperly marketed’ legal services, law society alleges

Just below a video and toll-free number, one logo on the Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ website has a thumbs up and says “Best Business of 2017” above the word “Excellence.” Another logo simply states “Best Lawyers.”

For using them, Gregory Neinstein, the firm’s managing partner, according to its website, is facing allegations of professional misconduct for improper marketing of legal services.

A Law Society of Ontario notice issued to Neinstein says the claims made in the logos are “unverifiable” and “inconsistent with a high standard of professionalism.”

“The respondent suggests that he, his legal services, and his law firm, are qualitatively superior to other lawyers and law firms,” according to the notice published this month on the law society’s website.

The allegations, issued Feb. 6, come just weeks after the prominent personal injury firm agreed to pay an estimated $4 million to settle claims that it double-dipped from the settlements of nearly 1,800 accident victims it represented. They also come about two years after the law society decided to crack down on improper marketing of legal services.

Neinstein’s lawyer Brian Greenspan told the Star that the “two designations that are the subject of complaint were properly and fairly awarded” and that “the display of the logos is routine within the personal injury bar in particular and across the legal profession.” When asked who awarded the designations to the Neinstein firm, Greenspan said “those agencies that provided the award” but declined to name the specific agencies.

He also said that there are certain firms that seem subjected to a constant review by “selective enforcement” by the law society and that the Neinstein firm is being “unfairly targeted.”

“It is unfair and unwarranted,” Greenspan said.

A hearing date has not been set, said Susan Tonkin, a spokeswoman for the Law Society of Ontario. Under the Law Society Act, a lawyer found to have engaged in professional misconduct and/or conduct unbecoming a licensee could face penalties ranging from a reprimand or suspension to revocation of their licence.

“Every case is judged on its own merits,” Tonkin said.

A Star investigation that began in 2016 found that personal injury law marketing was like the “wild west,” where many lawyers apparently broke rules designed to prevent false and misleading advertising. The investigation also found that personal injury lawyers in Ontario had routinely taken their fees — contingent on a successful resolution of a case — and an additional amount known as “costs,” a practice referred to as “double dipping.”

In the winter of 2017, the law society clarified its rules for acceptable legal marketing and advertising. It is against the rules for law firms to cite paid-for awards that are not genuine indicators of quality. Advertising must be “demonstrably true, accurate and verifiable” and cannot be “misleading, confusing or deceptive.”

The Rules of Professional Conduct also state that marketing must be “in the best interests of the public” and “consistent with a high standard of professionalism.”

The two-page notice of application issued this month says that Neinstein is alleged to have committed professional misconduct since about Feb 23, 2017 by reproducing the two logos on the Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers website.

Not only do the logos suggest qualitative superiority of the firm and its lawyers, the notice says, but in particular, the logo with the thumbs up, which also contains the phrases “Best Business” and “Three Best Rated,” contravenes the law society’s requirement that awards and rankings “genuinely reflect the quality of legal services provided by a lawyer, as determined through a reasonable evaluative process.”

The use of the “Best Lawyers” logo is likely to “mislead, confuse or deceive the public,” the notice says. Neither Neinstein nor his firm have “received such a designation from the organization which makes the logo available,” according to the notice. One website called Best Laywers lists Neinstein lawyer Duncan Embury for the Toronto area.

The Neinstein firm’s recent agreement to pay the estimated $4 million effectively ended a class-action lawsuit against the firm that commenced in 2012, at a time when lawyers working on contingency — “you don’t pay unless we win” — were not allowed to take a sum of money called “costs” in addition to a percentage of the settlement, according to the Solicitor’s Act governing lawyers.

The class members had alleged that the law firm had breached provincial law and its “fiduciary duties” by charging an amount for costs in addition to taking a contingency fee. The firm denied the allegations.

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