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Judge Judy Settles With Lawyer Over TV Ad: 3 Lessons for Your Firm

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

Judge Judy -- yes, that Judge Judy -- has reached a settlement with a Connecticut lawyer accused of using images from her TV show in his own commercial, TMZ reports.

The fact that this case exists at all seems silly, because as Judge Judy so astutely noted, "Mr. Haymond is a lawyer and should know better."

Here are three takeaways from Judge Judy's real-life legal predicament that, hopefully, you knew already:

1. Don't Use Someone Else's Likeness Without Permission.

Unless you have their consent or it's really newsworthy, it's a tort to use someone else's likeness in a TV ad. If the person is a celebrity, the damages multiply because the celebrity has spent considerable time building up his or her brand, and your poor life choices could harm that brand.

Case in point: In 2013, singer Rihanna won a case in the United Kingdom over a T-shirt with her picture, sold without her consent. In his decision, the judge noted that consumers could be confused into believing that Rihanna had authorized the shirt, which isn't even damaging in itself -- it's just that Rihanna didn't have anything to do with the shirt.

In Judge Judy's case, she claimed she wasn't merely passed off as authorizing something, but endorsing something -- namely, Haymond's law practice.

2. Consider Your Ethical Obligations.

That brings us to another sticky situation when lawyers use others in endorsements: professional responsibility!

States heavily regulate lawyer advertising, including what the ads can claim and who can appear in them. Connecticut has largely adopted the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which requires truthfulness in advertising.

Plopping Judge Judy into an advertisement could create the impression that she endorses or otherwise approves of Haymond as a lawyer, which -- because there was a lawsuit about it -- clearly wasn't the case.

3. Avoid Bad Publicity.

If an advertisement makes you think twice, shouldn't that, in itself, raise a red flag? If I were in the market for a personal injury lawyer in Connecticut, I wouldn't want one who thinks he can engage in questionably lawful advertising and then claim -- as TMZ reported -- that he was trying to promote Judge Judy, not himself. That's more baloney than you'll find at the Carnegie Deli. If he thinks he can do this, get away with it, and then have the audacity to claim that he wasn't promoting himself, what other questionable decisions will he make as a practicing attorney?

Lawyer advertising is a good thing, but follow the rules -- not just the legal ones, but the good taste ones, too. The court of public opinion can be even harsher than the court of law.

Want to spend more time practicing, and less time advertising? Leave the marketing to the experts.

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