May 15th, 2015

Chasing the Amtrak Crash


Dean Weitzman from “My Philly Lawyer”

You have seen this act before, dear reader, but perhaps never so blatantly. It’s the lawyer who chases the mass disaster crash, a/k/a the ambulance chaser. It’s the lawyer that, by doing so, smears the names of all others in the lawyering profession.

Today’s story comes up because Dean Weitzman, managing partner of the Philadelphia firm Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, decided it would be a swell idea to send out a press release to the local press letting everyone know that they would be accepting cases from the Amtrak crash. (Which is not an “accident” by the way).

He wrote, among much personal agrandizement, that is firm would be:

available to provide representation for victims and injured persons in last night’s Amtrak derailment in North Philadelphia.

Gee. Ya’ think?

And he also wrote that:

Dean Weitzman is also available to media outlets to give analysis and discuss what happens next.

The firm is, as I understand it, (in)famous for slathering Philly with its ads, using the moniker My Philly Lawyer.

It was exactly this type of grotesque chasing after cases that led New York to create its 30-day anti-solicitation rule (and I presume to a similar federal 45-day rule for airline disasters). In the immediate wake of the 2003 Staten Island Ferry disaster that killed 11, some lawyers ran to the Staten Island Advance to place ads for the next day.

But there were still bodies on the boat when many of them did that.

This type of wretched behavior has repercussions.  I see it when I step into the jury room to select, as do others in the profession.  Calling the jury pool cynicism deep would be an understatement.

If the cynicism came solely from insurance company propaganda, it would be one thing. But when the smear comes from your own ranks, then what? Then it becomes the obligation of others in the profession to express their contempt for the practice and issue a complete disavowal of the conduct.

Let there be no mistake about my position here: Dean Weitzman and the firm of Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman do a grave disservice to the cause of justice and to those who have been injured. By chasing ambulances in this fashion they perpetuate an ugly stereotype, whose ramifications are felt not only by members of the bar but more importantly by those we represent.

As I noted back in 2009 in a short analysis of anti-solicitation rules, they do work. In honor of the chasing that Weitzman is doing, it looks like time for Pennsylvania to follow suit with an amendment to its rules.

Since Dean Weitzman said he was “available to media outlets to give analysis and discuss what happens next,” I’ve sent him an email seeking comment about the appropriateness of sending out such an email within 24 hours of the crash, when all of the passengers aren’t even accounted for. If he elects to respond I may amend this post.

(Hat tip, Max Kennerly)



January 2nd, 2015

The Website and the Rotary Phone

Barbershop-RotaryPhoneOver at The Lawyerist, Sam Glover is having a contest for the best lawyer website, a contest I would never win as I hate mine.

I skimmed his piece and then went to get a haircut.

My barbershop has a rotary phone, which you can see here. And an old time cash register.

The shop doesn’t have a Twitter or Facebook account, no Flikr, Tumblr or Instagram.

What they do is this: They give good haircuts at a good price. There is a barber’s pole attached to the building.

I don’t care what business you are in, be it goods or service, this is something to think about: That barbershop is always crowded.


November 24th, 2014

Is Any Lawyer Advertising Good?

Running on Field NakedI’m not a fan of lawyer advertising. Likely because so much is dreadful  (though not all). Or ethically challenged.

But when The Fishtown Lawyers, Leo Mulvihill and Jordan Rushie, were contacted by the Philadelphia Eagles about advertising during their games, I think they missed the boat by saying “no” too quickly.

Maybe going over the top is OK — no, not with a flaming sledge hammer of justice.  Maybe you just have to go over the top the right way.

So I’ve taken the liberty of writing ad copy for their criminal defense firm…you guys can thank me later:

Have you been falsely accused of running naked onto the field in front of 50,000 people?

Were you busted for recycling your pre-game beers down from the upper deck perch onto the heads of  choir boys and nuns below while the video cameras rolled? But you thought it was fresh beer, so it was OK?

Did you dis a cop at a crowded tailgate party, “You can only catch me in your dreams?”  Before collapsing into a pool of your own vomit?

Call The Fishtown Lawyers, Mulvihill & Rushie, to help save you from such well-documented, though no doubt scurrilous, accusations.

That’s The Fishtown Lawyers, Mulvihill & Rushie, who know from personal experience that consuming a mere 5 – 10 drinks can make others level all kinds of false accusations against you.

Why the Fishtown Lawyers? Because representing yourself might not be such a hot idea.

And we promise we’ll be sober in court.

Too bad they don’t have the guts to run it.


May 22nd, 2014

You want me to violate what law?


Who’s hiding behind that Google ad?

It isn’t often that someone emails me out of the blue and asks me to commit a misdemeanor. So I guess this wasn’t just another day.

Welcome to another edition of:   outsource your marketing = outsource your ethics. Today, perhaps, we can add to that equation that you might end out surrendering your money, license and liberty as well.

The email came to me from a Utah digital marketing firm called Lead PPC, from its CEO Grant James. I get pitches from marketeers all the time (“first page of Google!!!”) and generally just delete before reading, but I look sometimes to see if there’s any new scam under the sun.

The pitch was simple: The company would use the names of other personal injury attorneys as keywords for Google and my name would pop up in an ad. In other words, they want me to trade on the names of my “competitors” (a/k/a friends and colleagues).  This was the emailed pitch:

By staying away from the expensive $100+ cost per click keywords, we get right to the good stuff that is cheap, targeted, and needs help now.  Mostly, people are searching for the names of your top competitors who are advertising on radio, tv, and billboards.  We show up above them on Google and Bing, and they call us instead of them.

Whoa.  Now I may not always be the sharpest knife in the block  — just ask my kids —  but I do know that trading on the name of someone else is, what we call in legalese, a big, fat, hairy, ugly no-no. This is New York’s Civil Rights Law §50, also known as the right to privacy (and elsewhere, in various forms, the right to publicity):

A person, firm or corporation that uses for advertising purposes, or for the purposes of trade, the name, portrait or picture of any living person without having first obtained the written consent of such person, or if a minor of his or her parent or guardian, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

And in Civil Rights Law §51, there is a private right of action, and this includes both compensatory and punitive damages. In other words, I could be sued by the people whose names I’ve appropriated. And unlike other suits against me, this one could actually have merit.

In addition to the prospect of criminal and civil problems, there is also the prospect of action against my license under the Code of Professional Responsibility for false and deceptive conduct (Rule 7.1(a)(1)), implying that the better-known lawyer is associated with my firm (Rule 7.1(c)(2)) and using “hidden computer codes that, if displayed, would violate these Rules” (Rule 7.1(g)).

Grant James - LeadPPC

Grant James, CEO of LeadPPC

Figuring  that my understanding of what he suggested might just, perhaps, be the result of a poorly written email, or maybe that I didn’t understand the technology, I replied to Mr. James seeking clarity:

Hi Grant.

I read through your email and didn’t understand something:

Mostly, people are searching for the names of your top competitors who are advertising on radio, tv, and billboards.  We show up above them on Google and Bing, and they call us instead of them. 

What does this mean?

Simple enough, right? But his response was to make clear that I had it right the first time, that this was a dishonest, misbegotten, bastardization of legal marketing. He responded by giving me the names of prominent Texas trial lawyers he had misappropriated:

Hey. Yeah sorry if this was a little vague or confusing.

An example would be like in Dallas and Houston where we spend most of our budget on terms related to Jim Adler, Brian Loncar,, radlaw, and other terms for competitors.

What happens is that people hear a radio commercial and they can’t remember the website, so they search for what they can remember about the lawyer.

So if a guy searches for Brian Loncar, we know that they were most likely in an accident. If we rank for #1-2 on PPC, especially mobile, they click on us and call in.

A prospect typing in the name of a competitor term as opposed to “personal injury lawyer” is a much hotter prospect and further down the buying path. Additionally, these terms are much cheaper and less competitive than the broader terms everyone is bidding on and pushing up the prices.

The strategy works best in larger cities where law firms are advertising heavily on radio, tv, etc.

Texas, we have a problem.

Leaving aside the marketeer for a moment, what lawyer would do such a thing to another? I wanted to know, but since I’m in New York the Google ad words didn’t pop up in my market when I searched.

But, funny enough, I happen to know ace Dallas criminal defense lawyer blogger Mark Bennett. And Mark has written his fair share of postings about shady marketing tactics.

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 11.20.02 AM

So he Googalized those more prominent names that Grant James had kindly told me he had misappropriated, and up popped the website ( of attorney Ben Abbott in the Google ads.  You can see one of the to the right, where Brian Loncar was Googled. Bennett has screen shots of others.

You will notice that Bennett searched only for the name, and didn’t add lawyer, car accident, or any other popular buzzword.  Just the name. And up pops Ben Abbott’s ad.

As it happens, swiping the name of another person in order to exploit it is also a problem in Texas. It sure looks like Ben Abbott can be sued, and I’m guessing Grant James and his SEO company as well.

Now I’m also going to guess, simply because I fancy myself a kind and beneficent person, that Grant James is utterly ignorant of the law. I think I’m being charitable when I wrote that he probably knows that swiping the names of others to trade on them is a pretty scummy black hat tactic, but that he doesn’t know the legal ramifications. Or he knows but just doesn’t care.

But what would be the excuse of attorney Ben Abbott?

While I know that black hat marketing techniques go on, and have written about them in the past, I never really guessed it would come at me in such a bold and obvious way.

Who, I wanted to know, would he target? So I asked and he responded:

I would need to work together with you to put together a list of 15-20 of the top competitors in NY.  It would be the same guys who advertise on radio, tv, and billboards.

So then I moved the conversation to problems with his scheme, with a nice open-ended query to get his thinking, to see how he could justify this:

I don’t know, Grant, the whole thing about using the names of other lawyers to promote myself doesn’t really sound kosher.

What came back was a very long email about how Google operates and what Google allows and doesn’t allow and Google this and Google that, as if Google was a law of some kind and could be waved in front of judge and jury as a defense.


Ben Abbott, Texas lawyer

To Ben Abbott, who should know better, I asked:

Mr. Abbott:

I’m writing an article about your using the names of other Texas trial lawyers as part of your advertising. This includes Jim Adler and Brian Loncar.

When their names are Googled, your ad pops up. Would you care to comment about why you think this is acceptable marketing?

Thank you.

He hasn’t written back yet. If he does, I may update this.

This is, by the way, part of the Wild West of marketing. A year ago in Wisconsin, under presumably different laws, a court held that stealing someone’s name to use as a hidden advertising keyword might past muster in a civil suit, as in that state (unlike New York) there was apparently no statute. There was no word in Eric Goldman’s Forbes column about the ethical implications. (Update: Under Florida law, this is not an ethics violation. I think is should be.)

But I think the message is pretty clear that, once again my friends, when those marketeers come-a-callin’, you had best remember that they become your agent when you hire them for marketing. Marketing is part of attorney ethics. If you elect to outsource your marketing then you have outsourced your ethics. And reputation. And possibly your bank account and liberty.

It sucks to be a test case.


February 3rd, 2014

Local Super Bowl Ad Features “Flaming Sledgehammer of Justice”

JamieCasinoAdThe tip comes to me from a friend: Have you seen this?!?  A Savannah, Georgia personal injury attorney bought up two minutes of local airtime during the Super Bowl last night to explain why he’s a personal injury attorney.

And he does so with a flaming sledgehammer. And trading on the shooting death of his brother. And smashing a tombstone. And dissing his past criminal defense clients, describing himself as a “notorious criminal defense attorney” who was “employed” by “cold-hearted villains.”


While I am no fan of personal injury ads, having only seen one that was actually done well, I do admire folks who will try something different. But trying something different doesn’t mean pretending you are a super hero and smashing a gravestone, with ridiculous production, as attorney Jamie Casino does in this video, now on YouTube. Go watch it, then come back.

Welcome back.

The most important issue: If he will diss his former criminal defense clients today, and claim to have been in their employ, what will he say about his current clients tomorrow? How do you trust someone who will rip into his prior clients? This isn’t just a question of being fickle in his choice of practice areas — anyone ought to be able to move around for a multitude of reasons — but calling them “cold-hearted villains?”

The fact that he trades on his brother’s death and uses atrocious production values to garner attention (which obviously worked since I’m writing about it and others also will) may go to the good/bad taste of the viewer. I think they are bad taste.

Also, I’m not keen on people that wear sun glasses at night, unless they happen to be the Blues Brothers. And using Avvo Answers to ask people to call him. But I guess those are nits to pick.

But there isn’t really any excuse for trashing your clients, to whom you owe a fiduciary duty and duty to preserve secrets even after representation is done.

If he finds more lucrative retention a few years down the road in another line of work, what will he be saying about today’s personal injury clients?

Addendum: It appears from this article that Jamie Casino’s brother Michael was killed in 2012 and that he then switched over from criminal defense to personal injury law. And that means he likely has little actual trial experience in personal injury. From the article:

Casino goes on to depict events surrounding the real-life slaying of his brother over Labor Day weekend in 2012. Casino’s younger brother, Michael Biancosino, 30 at the time, and Emily Pickels, 21, were shot and killed in Biancosino’s vehicle in the early hours of Sept. 1.

So this guy, who has most of his legal experience in a different field, criminal defense, just spent a boatload of money — two minutes during the Super Bowl — to advertise for clients in his relatively new field. This is from his website:


There is a difference between marketing and lawyering.

Addendum #2 – See Max Kennerly’s take (Jamie Casino and The Super Bowl Ad: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should):

…I’m dismayed by his negative portrayal of his former field, criminal-defense. In his prior work as a criminal-defense lawyer, did he break ethical rules? Did he conspire with clients to commit crimes? If not, then what’s the problem? What is he ashamed of? The ethical practice of criminal defense?…