Benevolent Contribution or Shameless Self Promotion?: Law Firm Naming Rights in Hospital Facilities

There has been some recent controversy surrounding the issue of personal injury law firms obtaining rights to promote their business names in hospital wings and other publically funded medical facilities across Ontario in exchange for making financial contributions to such facilities.

For example, in Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, its visitor’s lounge prominently displays the name of a top personal injury firm on a large sign. This prominent display would no doubt attract the attention of seriously injured patients who may be in the market for some legal representation.

Another example of law firm branding is found at the Toronto Rehabilitation Centre Institute, which has named three patient dining rooms after two personal injury law firms who sponsored the rooms by donating a total of $1 million dollars to the Centre.

Critics of this practice believe that this exhibits shameless commercialism and that a hospital should not be used as a platform for promoting business interests, especially in the presence of vulnerable patients in their time of medical need. Many individuals accuse law firms engaging in this kind of conduct as “predatory” and hospitals permitting this behavior as  “selling their souls.”

Firstly, while I appreciate the emotionally charged views associated with law firm branding in hospital wings, I believe there is nothing wrong with such advertising. In fact, what a terrific idea! Yes, the severely injured patients who frequent these facilities are vulnerable and in their time of greatest medical need; Yes, these patients and their families may be experiencing a crisis that may change their lives forever; and yes, these patients are focused on addressing the medical attention at the moment, but their priorities will inevitably shift to obtaining compensation and justice as soon as their injuries are stabilized (if ever) and offering some legal options in the vicinity beforehand may be of some use.

Second and most importantly, but for the donations of the private sector to hospitals stuck in the publically funded universal healthcare system, God help us imagine what the conditions would be like without such private contributions. It is just too convenient to attack the private sector and the hospitals that rely on them for financial resources to make people more comfortable in their time of need. However, until the government has the resources necessary to provide a higher standard of care to meet both the medical needs of patients and the physical and emotional needs of their loved ones, the support of the private sector is necessary. Until then, why criticize these law firms for choosing to use their marketing budgets in a way that also gives back to their communities?

Clearly in an ideal world, hospitals would not be reliant on private sector contributions. In fact, I’m willing to bet that personal injury firms could use their marketing budget on less publically useful things such as billboards, or television commercials without offering any real benefit to the public. However, targeting hospital facilities not only provides a focused target market to attract clients who may be more likely to actually need such legal services, but such contributions to the hospitals translates into bettering the delivery of healthcare more than a television ad ever could.

It is time for society to do away with its unfounded lawyer bashing culture and recognize that good personal injury lawyers are worth their weight in gold. Just ask any quadriplegic.  Society should embrace opportunity as it presents itself in light of the benefits it brings with it, and biting the hand that feeds is not the way to go when there is no better alternative.

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