Thoughts on Advertising

Have you noticed that our lives are filled with lawyer ads? Have you wondered why there seem to be so many lawyers on TV, radio, phone books, billboards, and even buses? The answer, while complex, has its roots in a decision reached by the American Bar Association (ABA) back in 1908.

In 1908, the ABA passed a set of rules banning lawyer advertising. The ABA believed that advertising was unprofessional, inherently misleading, and shone a negative light on the practice of law. These rules were adopted in the states and were followed for the next 70 years.

However, in 1977 two lawyers in Arizona challenged the ban, claiming that it violated their First Amendment rights to free speech. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which agreed with the Arizona lawyers and ruled that an outright ban on lawyer advertising was not permissible.

In the past nearly 40 years, lawyer advertising has exploded. And it has become a travesty. In order to best each other, Lawyer Advertisers have gone to extremes, creating elaborate, repetitive, seemingly ever-present advertisements. This endless barrage of one-upmanship degrades the legal profession and demeans the system. But most importantly, the concern that the American Bar Association had over a hundred years ago has come to fruition— lawyer advertisements can mislead the public (Did I mention that they are also distasteful, idiotic, unfunny, pandering, ridiculous, and pathetic?).

Most people go their entire lives without the need of an injury lawyer. So, when someone is injured and need a lawyer, they don’t know where to turn. Without any good information to rely upon, they look (unwittingly) to whoever is talking the loudest. Advertising Lawyers know this and spend millions of dollars a year developing their message and trying to catch the most clients. They will use pictures of ferocious animals, carpentry tools, serious looking men and women in business suits, destroyed cars, or injured people. They will use tired slogans. They will flash warnings about bad drugs, or bad medical devices, or bad……whatever.

To keep from getting yourself fooled, when you see a lawyer on television or on a billboard, ask yourself these questions:

-Do they actually live and work in Louisville? Would it surprise you that many lawyer advertisers don’t actually live or work in Louisville (or Kentucky for that matter)? It is often the case that the attorney with the big advertising campaign will not have an office near you and will not understand your community or the legal landscape.

-Will they actually handle my case? Often lawyer advertisers either farm your case out to another lawyer or firm, or they will use associate lawyers, paralegals, secretaries, or “case managers” to handle your case. Look for the fine print on an ad (if you can find it).

-Have they ever tried a case in front of a jury? If they have, how long ago was it? Television advertisers are sometimes called “legal mills.” They are built upon a model of getting as many cases as possible and settling them quickly. This can lead to your case being lost in the shuffle.

-Are they respected among insurance companies and other lawyers? This is perhaps the most important thing to consider. You must keep in mind that if you are injured and seek compensation, the other side simply does not want to pay you. Thus, every case is a battle–you versus them. In this battle, you need to have a lawyer that you are proud to stand next to.

The bottom line is that television, radio, and billboard advertisements are a bad way to find an attorney. Hiring a lawyer from a billboard, an ad on the side of a bus, or from a radio or television commercial is no smarter than hiring a surgeon for a serious operation because of a catchy advertising jingle or funny slogan. Most people couldn’t imagine taking such a gamble, yet many people hire lawyers merely because they have seen them in an advertisement.

Don’t be fooled. Ask yourself this question: Do I want to hire the best lawyer or the best advertiser? The answer, we beleive, is obvious.