Legal advertising

In 2001 a London law firm posted ads in the bathrooms of pubs for divorce work. The ads had a picture of packed suitcase with the slogan "Ditch the bitch." This became the subject of an ethics inquiry, but a decision was made that the ads didn’t encourage divorce or violate ethical standards.

Then there is the Virginia personal injury lawyer Lowell "The Hammer" Stanley. That’s how he describes himself in his television ads and at his website where he also calls himself "The injury lawyer." His office phone number is equally impressive: "1-800-208-CASH." He asks prospective clients to "Let me fight for you" and promised in his television ads that he would " be your S.O.B." He’s not bashful about pointing all of his accomplishments because he has clips on his website reporting that "charges against local attorney have been dismissed." It seems that a psychiatrist on the same floor as his office filed misdemeanor assault charges against the attorney, but they reached a settlement. I know nothing about Mr. Stanely’s legal skills and he may well be an outstanding trial lawyer, but his website and Utube videos are unique.

There was a flap about a billboard in Chicago showing a scantily clad couple looking like they were about to have sex with the message: "Life’s short, get a divorce." We have also had a divorce firm that advertised on wooden chop sticks that had to be broken apart to be used and one with cards that had condoms attached.

Then there is just plain ambulance chasing. In the movie The Verdict, Paul Newman plays a lawyer who checks the newspaper for recent deaths and then contacts the surviving family member pretending to have been a friend of the deceased in order to get the probate work. In the movie Rainmaker Danny DeVito takes new lawyer Matt Damon to hospital for cold calls on patients and shows him how to sign up injured people by just walking around looking for potential cases. In 1994 there was a natural gas explosion in New Jersey that virtually destroyed an apartment complex. One lawyer went to the motel where 300 people had been housed and solicited work. The next day another lawyer parked a recreational vehicle in the parking lot of the disaster relief center. It was covered with advertisements for clients who were involved in the disaster. Another lawyer went to the Red Cross center where he signed up clients. When there is an mass disaster or an commercial aviation crash there is a flurry of ambulance chasing lawyers making unsolicited contact with possible clients. They are sometimes referred to as "parachute lawyers" who parachute into the disaster area. Now we have the internet. Within hours of the California Metrolink train crash U-Tube and the web were flooded with attorneys soliciting clients with addresses like "Metrolink Train Attorney."

In 1978 the U.S. Supreme court ruled that lawyers can advertise. Law firms spent $900,000 on television ads that year. Since 1981 when legal spending was $6.1 million advertising has increased 40% a year. Spending for ads for legal services on television rose to $82.3 million in 1989. According to Forbes in the top 75 television markets some 2,000 lawyers spent $230 million in advertising. Network Affiliates, the nation’s largest legal advertising agency says one third of its $20 million in legal billings come from pharmaceutical litigation ads alone. In 1998 Jacoby and Meyers spent $6.4 million on advertisement and was the biggest legal advertiser in the country that year.Now Massachusetts lawyer James Sokolve is the biggest spender among legal advertisers. In 2007 he spent $20 Million dollars and refers all of his cases to other lawyers, taking a percentage of any recovery. His radio and TV ads run once every eight seconds and tracks some 10,000 cases he has referred to other lawyers.

So, what should we think about this? On the one hand legal advertising is here to stay and it may be if you don’t advertise you won’t be able to survive at least in the personal injury field. On the other hand is the question of professional appearance, legal ethics and just good taste. The medical profession trailed the legal profession in advertising its professional services, but is a full participant now. We have professional advertising as a reality. How does a new lawyer obtain legal work without advertising and how does an established lawyer keep getting work without advertising? I don’t know the answers.

We know there is marketing directed at new clients and marketing that is directed at lawyer referral. I also know that lawyers can let others do the advertising and sign on with commercial referral companies that do the advertising. There are also different approaches which include: direct ads as in the Yellow Pages, websites, newspaper ads, and indirect approachs through publicity b y activity in seminars or bar work. I think if I were to decide to engage in advertising the first thing I would do is consult marketing consultants before I bought a yellow page ad or signed up with a referral service. Marketing is a specialized field and lawyers should not assume they know how to do it on their own especially with the cost of advertising as much as it is. I also know I would consult an ethics expert before I used any marketing method to avoid bar association problems. I also know I would not make long term agreements, but rather have a way to measure the benefit of what I am spending. There is a huge volume of information about this subject that should be investigated before deciding on anything

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