Broward County, FL - Many lawyers use personal hobbies and affiliations to market themselves to potential, like-minded clients. But one association in South Florida has taken that marketing strategy a bit too far.
The Sun-Sentinel newspaper of South Florida ran a story on a controversial bus bench ad that was placed near the Broward County Courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale, FL. Although lawyer advertising in this area is quite common, the message it conveyed grabbed the attention of many, including fellow attorneys, who were taken aback by the advertisement:
"Prefer a Jewish lawyer!"
Jewish Lawyer Referral Service
Jewish American Bar Association
Yes, it is a real organization, established by social worker Lisa Spitzer, which aims to connect people with legal needs to Jewish lawyers. The Jewish American Bar Association was incorporated last year and has its own website and a P.O. box (located in Boca Raton, FL) as its main office address.
Spitzer acknowledges that the group, which costs $325 in annual dues to join, has only 3 members in South Florida. She stated that she would allow non-Jewish members to sign up for the referral service "if their heart was in accordance with our goals and purposes."
Those goals? Apparently to promote the use of a Jewish attorney over non-Jewish attorneys, which many find troubling. Critics of the organization fear that this advertising will be looked at as Jewish lawyers playing on stereotypes to gain more business.
Litigator Richard Sachs, president of the B'nai B'rith Justice Unit of Broward County, fears the advertising implies that Jewish lawyers believe themselves to be better than non-Jewish lawyers.
"[JABA] implies a Jewish attorney is better than a non-Jewish attorney, and that can't help the legal community at large."
The fears are well founded, especially for Broward County where recent judicial elections were the scene for some ethnic controversy. Many of those who challenged incumbents were accused of trying to use their Jewish-sounding last names to garner more votes.
One of the most important questions raised about the Jewish American Bar Association is whether the organization is misleading about its true existence. Some attorneys are claiming that by calling itself a "bar organization" it gives a false credibility that it is a national organization of lawyers, not just a Jewish lawyer referral service.
The Florida Bar does not appear to have any rules against an organization calling itself a "bar organization" but if any problems arise with this sort of advertising, the 3 Florida lawyers registered with the service would be held responsible.
The bus bench ad was taken down when the outcry began and has been submitted to the Florida Bar's advertising committee for review. The organization has also registered with the Florida Bar as a lawyer referral service.
Throughout the controversy, Spitzer remains optimistic that her endeavor will survive and grow.
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