Much Ado . . . or All's Well?
by Diane Hartman
We had a little tiff with the Denver/Boulder Better Business Bureau recently. If you don’t know about it, follow along and see what you would have said or done (because you know we want to represent you well!).
Many people spied an ad, which ran repeatedly on Channel 9. It said:
This was a locally produced ad, paid for by the Denver/Boulder Better Business Bureau.
Although we pondered mightily, we couldn’t think of another way to interpret this except that some client used to have a fortune and somehow, in the course of doing business with a lawyer, all that money got transferred to the lawyer. Our inference, silly us, was that he had stolen it. We believed all viewers would make that inference.
We called the BBB; the person we complained to said we were humorless and defensive. Perhaps.
Then we called a lawyer who was last year’s chair of the BBB Board. He said he was comfortable with the ad. We did become humorless and defensive. We said we would like to see the ad taken off the air. Denying free speech!, he countered. He became H&D and said it wouldn’t happen.
On Feb. 21, at the next CBA Board of Governors meeting, we showed the ad, and handed out "Fun Facts About the Denver/Boulder Better Business Bureau." We included the BBB’s mission statement, some of the membership requirements (something about ensuring that the overall impact of an ad would not be misleading and that they’ll be responsible for truthful and non-deceptive ads). We also listed the names, phones and emails of four of their officials. We added "words you could use if you called or write them about the ad: shocked, distressed, seething, infuriated, bristling, confused, irate, maddened, fuming." To give our folks more options, we listed some quotes by Shakespeare: "Thou art a motley-minded, tottering, canker-blossom!" and "O odiferous brazen-faced lout! O villainous and fusty popinjay!" and more. We put a link to the best 100 insults by Shakespeare (http://www.iwaynet.net/~ggwiz/f/insulter.htm).
We shared all this info with the DBA Board of Trustees.
Some people did respond to the BBB, with one suggesting that they might run an ad that said: "Your pediatrician just killed your child. Next time you have another sick kid, call us first." Another said the ad violated the BBB’s own standards for being truthful and non-deceptive.
One lawyer, whose firm used to belong to the BBB, got through to the BBB executive director. The director became D&H. The lawyer asked what the BBB knew about the lawyers who belong to the BBB and what they report to those who inquire about lawyers. The director said they didn’t know anything about lawyer disciplinary matters and all they can do is "tell the caller whether the BBB has received complaints about fees." The lawyer pointed out that perhaps the ads were false, because "the BBB may be endorsing a lawyer who has been disciplined and the BBB would never know." The lawyer questioned the value of a BBB endorsement.
Well heck, we thought. We’ll just call up the BBB information line and see what they say. After all, the ad did say to call them first.
We inquired about two lawyers—one with a disciplinary history and one without. The BBB person said we should call the Colorado Bar Association; that maybe they would have more information. Whew!! We persevered. We said we really wanted to check on these people (like the ad asked us to do) so we wouldn’t make a mistake. They said they were sorry; they didn’t have information on either one.
The DBA and CBA leadership (Joe Dischinger and Bob Truhlar) met with the BBB’s newly-formed ethics/advertising council. We thought it ironic that one of the first uses of this board was for an ad by the BBB itself. At the hearing, they talked about how funny the ad was; we talked about how misleading it was. We told the BBB about our attorney grievance process and how you could actually look on the Supreme Court Web page and see if an attorney has been publicly disciplined. They were surprised and said maybe they could use that.
The BBB informed us after the hearing that the ad would either be dropped or modified.
The Rocky Mountain News was not happy that the BBB dropped the ad. The News said that all the BBB does is "provide inquiring consumers with information as to the number of complaints a business has inspired and how the business has dealt with them." Well, that’s sort of true. But even if a business is rotten, in bankruptcy, poorly run and gives bad service, if there hasn’t been a complaint, you’ll get nothing. To be perfectly truthful, maybe the BBB should say "we can tell you some things about some businesses but you ought to use your own good judgment before handing over any money to any company."
The bar associations will continue to watch for gratuitous slams against the profession and do what we can.