Archive for the ‘Advertising’ Category

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.”

Oy.

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:

JamieCasinoWebsite

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?…

Proner Law Firm Violating Ethics Rules Over Train Accident? (Again?)

PronerAndPronerYouTubeAd

Screen Shot of Proner & Proner Ad on YouTube, 9 pm on December 1st, with YouTube noting it had been up for 11 hours.

Well, there they go again. It was just this past May that I took the New York law firm of Proner & Proner to task for stepping all over New York’s attorney ethics code with regard to a local train accident, and they seem to be back at it again. Yesterday’s deadly train derailment in the Bronx occurred about 7:20 am. The Proner law firm ran their first ad on YouTube within hours.

Let’s review, shall we?

In the wake of the 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash that killed 11 — and the race by some law firms to run ads in the Staten Island Advance before all the bodies had even been pulled from the wreckage —  New York updated the Rules of Professional Conduct to stop the unseemly chasing of cases soon after a tragic event. This is our 30-day anti-solicitation rule:

Rule 4.5(a) In the event of a specific incident involving potential claims for personal injury or wrongful death, no unsolicited communication shall be made to an individual injured in the incident or to a family member or legal representative of such an individual, by a lawyer or law firm, or by any associate, agent, employee or other representative of a lawyer or law firm representing actual or potential defendants or entities that may defend and/or indemnify said defendants, before the 30th day after the date of the incident, unless a filing must be made within 30 days of the incident as a legal prerequisite to the particular claim, in which case no unsolicited communication shall be made before the 15th day after the date of the incident.

And just to be clear about what solicitation means, yes, it seems to mean doing something exactly like this — targeting a specific group. Read for yourself:

Rule 7.3(b)  For purposes of this Rule, “solicitation” means any advertisement initiated by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm that is directed to, or targeted at, a specific recipient or group of recipients, or their family members or legal representatives, the primary purpose of which is the retention of the lawyer or law firm, and a significant motive for which is pecuniary gain. It does not include a proposal or other writing prepared and delivered in response to a specific request of a prospective client.

I’ve written about this 30-day rule often, first after Captain Chesley Sullenberger splash landed a plane in the Hudson, then after a plane crash in Buffalo.

And most recently, I brought it up with this same firm, Proner & Proner, after another Metro-North derailment in Stamford Connecticut, when they apparently did the same thing they do today — use YouTube to solicit cases, despite our anti-solicitation rule. I counted stock videos uploaded in the hours after the accident, all of which have keyword loaded text to accompany it. See the screen grab above.

This makes Proner & Proner the second firm to get dishonorable mention twice on this blog for the same infraction.  (The first went to Ribbeck Law after plane crashes.)  I’m willing to bet, given that Proner has over 1,000 YouTube videos, that this type of conduct is probably standard procedure for them.

Why write about it again? Apparently, because those in charge of doing the disciplining either:

1. Don’t read this blog / didn’t notice; or

2.  They did notice but don’t actually care enough to do anything about it.

I sure hope it is the former and not the latter, because the idea that the courts would institute ethics rules but not follow them isn’t a thought I like to contemplate. Since I happen to think that the 30-day rule works, I likewise think it’s important to enforce it.

It’s also important to note, as I always do when taking a firm to task when my eyes see as ethical issues, that there are very few firms that do this. But those that do serve to influence how the public feels about lawyers. And when I go pick a jury on behalf of my own clients, my clients are the ones that suffer from the deep cynicism that such conduct creates. This is not just my opinion.

Judge Frederick Scullin, Jr. sitting in the Northern District of New York in Alexander v. Cahill, wrote in a footnote about the reason for the rules:

Without question there has been a proliferation of tasteless, and at times obnoxious, methods of attorney advertising in recent years. New technology and an increase in the types of media available for advertising have exacerbated this problem and made it more ubiquitous. As a result, among other things, the public perception of the legal profession has been greatly diminished.

It should be the obligation of attorneys to improve upon the system of justice, not bring it down.

Metro-North Derailment/Collision and Attorney Advertising

MetroNorthAccidentBridgeport

Photo Brian Pounds; Stamford Advocate

This post asks lots of questions; it doesn’t necessarily answer them. It might make a decent bar exam question.

At 6 pm last Friday, a Metro-North commuter rail train derailed and was then hit by another one in Bridegeport, CT. Many injured, and thankfully no one killed.

For those that don’t know, this is the busiest commuter railroad in the nation connecting New York City’s Grand Central Terminal with numerous points north (up into New York) and east (into Connecticut). I ride this system almost every day, on the same line where the collision took place, but closer to the city and thus unaffected.

This is a New York train system, with Connecticut owning its the rails and stations on its turf and Metro-North maintaining the entire thing.

Enter, stage right, the lawyers, many of whom would like to sign up the cases, especially since the National Transportation Safety Board will do all the hard work of investigating, and no one can blame the injured passengers.

That means it’s time for some folks to advertise. I’ve written on this subject many times in the past, in the wake of a Metrolink accident in California, a plane crash in the Hudson River and in Buffalo and a Staten Island Ferry collision with a pier. Do Attorney Anti-Solicitation Rules Work? (A Brief Analysis of Three Disasters)

PronerAndPronerI did a quick search and, it didn’t take me too long, stumbled on a YouTube ad for the firm of Proner and Proner. A screen grab is to the left. The video part is generic lawyer advertising about what they do and how long they have done it. You will not be impressed.

But.

The web copy under the YouTube ad, posted the same day as the derailment/collision, says:

Metro North Train Accident Bridgeport, CT (866) 209-4366 Connecticut Lawsuit Settlement

And as you can see in the right side bar of the YouTube commercial, there seem to be five such ads. They all appear identical, except for different keywords used in the titles. The law firm marketeers were obviously all over this.

By way of background, before you read the question below, this is New York’s 30-day anti-solicitation rule:

Rule 4.5(a) In the event of a specific incident involving potential claims for personal injury or wrongful death, no unsolicited communication shall be made to an individual injured in the incident or to a family member or legal representative of such an individual, by a lawyer or law firm, or by any associate, agent, employee or other representative of a lawyer or law firm representing actual or potential defendants or entities that may defend and/or indemnify said defendants, before the 30th day after the date of the incident, unless a filing must be made within 30 days of the incident as a legal prerequisite to the particular claim, in which case no unsolicited communication shall be made before the 15th day after the date of the incident.

So here are today’s questions, given that this is an accident in Connecticut, not far from the New York border. One train was headed toward New York and one was coming from here:

1.  Which rules on solicitation and advertising govern?  New York has its 30-day anti-solicitation rule for mass accidents. The site of the collision is Connecticut. Do the rules differ depending on the location of the lawyer, the victim or the incident?

2.   Proner and Proner claims to have five offices in New York,  and one in Connecticut.  Yet their website, which I won’t link to, lists only two lawyers. Yeah, I smell marketeers at work here also trying to make a small firm look big. Must they comply with New York’s anti-solicitation rules as they race after Connecticut clients?

3.  Metro-North is a public benefit corporation incorporated in New York.

4.  Is there any doubt the ads target New Yorkers (in addition to others)?

An interesting bit about our rules is that there is a separate area that defines solicitation is (Rule 7.3), making no mention of the location of the client, the defendant or the incident:

Rule 7.3(b)  For purposes of this Rule, “solicitation” means any advertisement initiated by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm that is directed to, or targeted at, a specific recipient or group of recipients, or their family members or legal representatives, the primary purpose of which is the retention of the lawyer or law firm, and a significant motive for which is pecuniary gain. It does not include a proposal or other writing prepared and delivered in response to a specific request of a prospective client.

And in another that rule proscribing solicitation there is a separate part that is specific to soliciting people in New York:

Rule 7.3(c) A solicitation directed to a recipient in this State shall be subject to the following provisions:

Does that mean that the 30-day rule is for those admitted in New York, regardless of whether the client is in New York?

The thought of this law firm (probably more, I didn’t look) racing on the very day of the collision to get its advertising up and running, no doubt while rescue was still underway, reminds me of the Staten Island Ferry collision of 2011 that killed 11. There were law firms, at the time, racing to put ads in the Staten Island Advance before the late afternoon deadline on the day it happened. People were still trapped on board the vessel. It was just that type of unseemly conduct that gave rise to New York’s 30-day rule.

Will Proner and Proner, or another firm, be the poster child for yet more regulation? I don’t know, but I also have no doubt that an investigation would find much, much more going on than the small snapshot that I write about today.

On a final note, this type of conduct takes places with only a very few firms. Yet, as with most things, it is the outlier actions of the few that tarnish the image of the majority.

My two drachmas for the day.

The Latest in Law Firm Marketing

TurkewitzLawWe interrupt this blog to bring you a special announcement on the latest and greatest in law firm marketing.

As you can guess from the picture to the right, my answer is not about  phony press releases like this that are little more than advertisements with links to obtain Google juice (this link is coded “No follow” to avoid that problem).

And it isn’t about creating fake law blogs, or flawgs (a great portmanteau), in order to create empty content that Google indexes in hopes to game search engines so that potential clients will find you.

And it isn’t about amassing gazillions of Twitter followers with less-than-candid personal profiles.

It isn’t about outsourcing marketing so that others can leave comment spam on blogs in the name of the law firm.

No, I am here to announce that the best attorney marketing — other than the obvious one of doing a good job for  your clients, who in turn refer you to others, a tactic that seems to get overlooked by the marketeers — is the tactic that is close to home. Do something in your community. There are approximately one gazillion ways to do this.

Being involved in the community isn’t a bad way to have people learn who you are and what you do while also providing muscle, brains or perhaps some financial support so that kids can, for example, take part in the national pastime. It’s the same approach used by generations of professionals and businesses of all stripes.

That’s right, this year’s winner of the best marketing technique is the same one I discussed back in 2010 when I got disgusted by all the marketeers pimping the “leads” they could get me for new cases from their attorney search services.

As I’ve told more than one cold-caller: I don’t have leads, I have clients. Humans are not commodities to be bought and traded.

I like to think of my version of marketing as an all-around win-win. It sure beats placing your firm name over a urinal.

Pitching-TurkewitzLawAnd, by the way, since I know you were wondering, the kid on the mound to the left is the same one previously featured with his skateboard.

He done good this weekend. Thanks for asking.

“You Wanna Be #1 on Google Forever?”

Oh, lordy, lordy, lordy, it just doesn’t get much better than this. An SEO salesman, trying to sell a lawyer a domain name, sounding drunk as a skunk, leaves a wonderfully rambling message. Not wonderful for him, of course, but for us.

And all of it deliciously placed on YouTube. Go ahead. Listen. It runs just over a minute. Trust me on this one.

So, was that, like, totally awesome, or what? Who the hell has to even write a post about it?

Can you imagine, someplace in America some lawyers might actually be outsourcing their marketing (and therefore their ethics) to this guy and his company?

A name, a name, my kingdom for a name! The recipient firm, McCollum & Griggs of Kansas City earns brownie points for putting this on the web, but publishing the name of the company, would have earned even more.

Hat tip to Bret Emison, also of Kansas City, who posted about it here.

BigLaw, Please Meet SmallLaw

(This is cross-published at Above the Law)

For the new ATL readers, let me introduce myself here in my first column. OK, screw that, I know you don’t really give a damn about me, so let’s jump to the meat and potatoes…

You all know that Dewey & LeBoeuf, filing for bankruptcy liquidation today, is the largest law firm to ever go bust. And that means a ton of people are now out of work, either scrambling to hitch their wagons to new firms or looking to start their own practices.

Because having your own firm is, to many, the Holy Grail of a law practice. Sure, some like the consistent fat paycheck, but the ranks of lawyers are filled with Type-A personalities who fantasize about practicing law the way they want to do it, not the way some other Type-A knucklehead has been telling them to do it.

There are only about a gazillion things to think about in starting your own shop: office space, support staff, technology and money to keep you going, to name a few. But today’s topic will be self-promotion and social media. And I don’t mean this in a good way, as in here’s how to go out and be famous on Twitter. No, no, a thousand times no. Instead I’d like to warn you about them, and help  you save your soul.

You’re welcome. Pull up a chair, and let’s review some of the more dreadful attorney marketing over the years. We’ll start in the toilet.

And when I say start in the toilet, I am perhaps, exaggerating a bit, because what I really mean is over a urinal. Now I know that no one from BigLaw would ever stoop low enough to advertise over a urinal, but you should know that marketing opportunities come in all shapes and sizes and that someone, somewhere might try to sell you something that doesn’t quite pass the smell test.

Selling is what marketers do, and dreams of a steady flow of clients is what many lawyers want to hear. That is always the salesman’s pitch, figuring out what the mark wants to hear. (“Would you like to have more cases?”) But I don’t suggest you take the ghoulish pitch from the funeral home website. Or that you advertise in a jail.

I won’t belabor the point of lousy marketing strategies, because I think you get the picture. If you’re going out on your own — and letting everyone know you are out on your own — you may start fielding inquiries not only from the commercial end of the pool where you once swam, but also questions from friends, family and neighbors that may focus on the consumer end of the law. That means criminal, personal injury, matrimonial, residential real estate, etc.

Some of you will dabble, not wanting to turn away business and curious as to how you might expand your practice. And some of you might actually like it, as your clients are likely to be real people instead of corporations. In addition to getting paid, you might get the warm, fuzzy feeling of actually helping a fellow human. But because these are people that don’t usually use legal services, it is also the domain of the mass advertiser.

So, for my new ATL readers, this is the thing to remember above all else: Marketing is part of our ethics codes. So if you outsource your marketing you outsource your ethics. It isn’t complicated; the marketer is your agent that is speaking for you. When the marketer calls and emails, you ask yourself: Is this the type of person I want to hand my law license to?

You may think that the company is reputable. But that is only because you really haven’t been watching the way some of us outside the BigLaw cocoon have been watching. Instead of giving examples of how the piddling marketing companies screw up (urinals, funeral homes, jails) — perhaps you figure you’ll just be safe and hire the biggest and best? —  let’s look at the Goliaths of the industry to see how well they have done.

First in the dock is Martindale Hubbell. One day it seems, some comment spam turned up on my blog. From them. That’s right, the great revered king of all kings in the legal directory business, was using black hat techniques to drum up business. By basically coming over to my place to stick a billboard for itself on my lawn. How did that happen? Because they weren’t actually doing the work, but had simply outsourced it to others (who may in turn have outsourced it yet again). So you should assume that no matter who you hire to market for you, it will end up being done by some kid in Bangalore, India who knows less than nothing about the practice of law and our codes of professional responsibility.

Next in the dock is FindLaw. What was their faux-pas? Creating crap. This company decided to create fax-blogs that did little more than repeat local news stories of accidents and then end with a links to the people that pay them. They were hoping that the people in the accidents would Google themselves and find the story and then click on the links to the lawyers that had paid FindLaw. At one point, I actually found them using the name of a dead child in the subject heading in order to lure in the family. Ask  yourself: Are these the types of people that you want to hand your ethics over to?

So this is the essence of what happens: The lawyer outsources marketing (and reputation) to a non-lawyer marketing company, which in turn hires or outsources your marketing (and reputation) to yet other people.

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Welcome to the world of attorney marketing. Please drive carefully.

 

Charlie Crist, Personal Injury Lawyer

You may remember Charlie Crist. He was the governor of Florida. He’s moved on from politics now and gone to work for Morgan & Morgan, the largest personal injury firm in Florida.

Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Based on what I do for a living, you would expect me to support those that fight on behalf of consumers against behemoth insurance companies that treat people like files.

But I do have a bone to pick. It’s about his 10-second commercial:

I’m Charlie Crist. If you need help sorting out your legal issues as a result of an accident or insurance dispute, visit me at Charlie@ForThePeople.com.

Now I understand it’s tough to create a quality personal injury commercial (and also tough to create a decent PI website, as I’ve discussed). But it can be done. And with that, I return you to the best PI commercials I have ever seen, from the New York firm of Trolman, Glaser & Lichtman: Power Company, Machete, and Song Stuck in Head.

And so, a note to Morgan & Morgan. You spend enormous sums of money advertising in Florida. You can do better than having a former governor do a 10-second spot that says “visit me.” If your ad agency lacks the creative juices to break out of the tired mold of “If  you’ve been injured, blah, blah, blah,” then find a new agency where people have some imagination.

(Hat tip: Mitchell Senft)

Lawyers and Advertising (The New Frontier)

I broach the subject of lawyer advertising every so often, because there seems to be so many different things to write on the subject. It covers constitutional law, ethics and plain old good (bad) taste.

Ethics and constitutional issues butted heads in recent years over New York’s new attorney advertising rules, which went up to the Second Circuit in Alexander v. Cahill, about which I’ve written often as it tracked its way through the judicial system.

Ethics also comes into play with deception, as evidenced by one Joseph Rakofsky, a New York lawyer with scant experience, but whose website sung his praises in oh so many ways. Then he got a real client. Defending a murder case. Which of course, he was utterly incompetent to do and after being exposed in the Washington Post, the story is now buzzing around the blogosphere (Gamso; Bennett; Elefant; Greenfield; Tannebaum; Mayer; Koehler, Above the Law).

And in the plain old bad taste department, I’ve written of lawyer advertising on a funeral home website and, in what I previously thought was the ultimate captive audience spot, over a urinal. All of this  is part of a never-ending race to the bottom, as Scott Greenfield describes it.

Which brings me today to The Buffalo News, and an op-ed by Jeffrey Freedman, and the next round of bad-taste advertising, and the fact that there was an even more captive audience that I hadn’t even thought of, but others, apparently have:

…Captive ads, in case you missed it, is the new Metrodata Services advertising program that allows defense attorneys, bail bondsmen and anyone else who would like to advertise to the captive audience of the recently arrested on big screen TVs in the Holding Center….

So if you thought standing at a urinal and seeing an ad in front of your nose made you a captive audience, then this brings us to the next level: An audience that is captive in the most literal sense of the word, in the local lock-up.

Freedman wonders where this will ultimately lead:

Erie County Medical Center is a potential gold mine of space. Picture the possibilities for hospital gowns. Give patients a choice: Viagra or Cialis today, Mr. Smith?

And just imagine elevators and waiting rooms papered with the faces of compassionate, personal injury attorneys. “We don’t charge a fee unless we win your case.”

I thought that when lawyers dug down deep to advertise at a funeral home website, that this was as low as they could go. But perhaps there are new avenues to be explored in bad taste.

Supreme Court Kills New York’s “New” Attorney Advertising Rules

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court put the final nail in the coffin of New York’s “new” attorney disciplinary rules regarding advertising when it refused to review a Second Circuit decision that struck most of the rules. I put “new” in quotes because they actually date to February 1, 2007, just months after I opened this little blog.

And I’ve been following the issue ever since. See January, 5, 2007;  New Attorney Advertising Rules (Is This Blog an Advertisement?)

Most of the rules were first  struck down by the U.S. District Court in July 2007 when challenged by Public Citizen on behalf of the upstate firm of Alexander & Catalano. And the Second Circuit upheld those determinations in April of this year. (Sonia Sotomayor was on the panel that heard the case, but had gone to the Supreme Court by the time the decision came down.)

Those broad-based rules tried to stop a variety of advertising techniques, but did so in a fashion that ran headlong into the First Amendment. The rules had barred, among other things, testimonials from clients relating to pending matters, portrayals of judges or fictitious law firms, attention-getting techniques unrelated to attorney competence, and trade names or nicknames that imply an ability to get results.

As I pointed out in one of my first posts, simply putting a picture of yourself on a lawfirm website could be construed as violating the prohibition against “characteristics clearly unrelated to legal competence.” The picture will tell the potential client your age, your race and your sex, but what will it tell them about legal competence? Nada. Ergo, under the new rules the photo could be a violation.

Obviously, this wasn’t why the rules were crafted. They came in response to the embarrassing aftermath of the October 2003 Staten Island Ferry disaster that killed 11, and the onslaught of ads in the Staten Island Advance the next day. Those ads were placed while rescue efforts were still ongoing at the ferry that day. It was not one of the better moments of the personal injury bar. And that incident brought about New York’s 30 day anti-solicitation rule, part of the new set of rules but one which was not affected by this ruling.

But the new rules went after problems that didn’t just have to do with 30 day time limits.

Senior Judge Frederick J. Scullin, who wrote the District Court opinion striking down almost all the other rules, summed up the problem this way in a buried footnote on page 29 of his decision:

Without question there has been a proliferation of tasteless, and at times obnoxious, methods of attorney advertising in recent years. New technology and an increase in the types of media available for advertising have exacerbated this problem and made it more ubiquitous. As a result, among other things, the public perception of he legal profession has been greatly diminished.

But in re-crafting rules in an attempt to solve this problem, the crafters went way too far. So far, in fact, that the only way to defend them was to assert that attorneys couldn’t use humor.

For it was humor that formed part of the basis of the state’s response to the Alexander & Catalano lawsuit. AS described the by state in one of its filings, the firm advertised that it:

retained by aliens, have the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or have stomped around downtown Syracuse, Godzilla-style.

And the argument by the state against this? That it wasn’t truthful. SeeNew York Responds to Lawsuit Challenging New Attorney Advertising Rules — By Banning Humor

When I read the state’s brief, that I discussed at some length in that post, I knew the rules were toast.

While the ads may have been tasteless and embarrassing to the profession, no person with a functioning brain could have believed that the firm had actually been retained by aliens or done any of the other eye-catching things in those commercials.

And so the First Amendment ruled the day, as the rules over reached to ban more than just dishonesty.

Now I sure as hell wouldn’t want to pick a jury in any courtroom if my firm was busy running such moronic ads, but taste is not something that can be regulated.

———————-

See also on the Supreme Court’s action:

SCOTUS Gives Nod to 2nd Circuit OK of ‘Heavy Hitters’ Law Firm Slogan & Descriptive Trade Names (ABA Journal)

US Supreme Court to New York Lawyers: You Are Awesome (Tannebaum @ My Law License)

Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in Lawyer Advertising Case (Robson @ Constitutional Law Prof Blog)

Good News for ‘Heavy Hitters’: High Court Sidesteps Lawyer Advertising Dispute (Koppel @ WSJ Law Blog)

FuneralHomes.Com Digs Down Deep For Personal Injury Lawyers

When the email arrived, my first thought was: Can this be for real?

The pitch that came from FuneralHomes.com (coded “NoFollow“) was this: They are a directory of funeral homes. And they want to inquire about my “interest in a new marketing channel” that they have “for firms specializing in Medical Malpractice, Wrongful Death & Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect.”

It made me shudder. And made me think of the washed up lawyer played by Paul Newman in The Verdict, going to funeral homes to pass around his card, pretending to have known the deceased as he chased cases. But instead of standing in their parlors handing out cards, this company wants lawyers to hang advertising on their site where the bereaved might go in time of need.

So, not really believing this email was real, as I thought it too sickening to be true, I shot back a reply to its sender, Tom Keesee: Is this for real?

And Keesee called back quickly, perhaps excited about having a having a potential fish on the line. Yes, he said, it was for real.

But before he could launch too deeply into his sales spiel, I asked him about the ethics of it all. Lawyers don’t pay him for leads, he said, so there was no problem. Also, since they aren’t attorneys, they don’t have to comply with attorney ethics rules regarding solicitation.

I pointed out, of course, that the lawyers that wanted to do business with still had to comply with ethics rules. And wasn’t this solicitation? He told me, a couple of times, that his “legal department” had looked into it and it was fine.

But rather than dwell on whether lawyers advertising on a funeral home website is a permissible form of solicitation or not, I’m going to move right to the “smell test” as in, does this smell right to you?

This marketing madness happens to come at the same time that a debate rages elsewhere in the legal blogosphere on this subject, because the American Bar Association recently announced it was going to look further into regulating online activity for lawyers. Larry Bodine, fired the first salvo, from the perspective of lawyer-marketing, trying to stop the ABA from working on the project. Scott Greenfield worries that his opportunity to blog could be impaired because of the liars and scoundrels out there, claiming to be something that they are not. Brian Tannebaum points out that it was the marketers that brought this on themselves. There is more on this from Antonin Pribetic, and and a summary of the issues presented to the ABA by Carolyn Elefant. There seem to be many ways in which ethics can be laundered.

So here’s what I think: The ABA position doesn’t really matter. And you know why? Because when lawyers see conduct that they deem to be offensive and detrimental to the legal field  – and I think that lawyers advertising on funeral home websites fits that definition — then some lawyer-bloggers will write about the subject. And if those bloggers are sufficiently offended by the conduct, then they might publicize the names of those that are chasing cases in such a manner. You can see examples of such e-shaming here by Mark Bennett, or another by Kevin O’Keefe here.

The web moves very fast when it comes to correcting the behavior of those that act offensively, a hell of a lot faster than the ABA. Witness this week, for example, the conduct of Judith Griggs who edits a small magazine called Cooks Source. She stole the work of others, did it without attribution, and tried to justify the plagiarism by claiming that the web is considered “public domain” that she can use. Colin Samuels at Infamy or Praise did a long piece on the subject as part of his Round Tuit round-ups, but here’s the thing: If you Google “Cooks Source” now you can see how she and the company has been savagely beaten up by the web, with page after page of venom. Their Google reputation is shot.

There are some who used to believe that any publicity is good publicity, so long as the name is spelled right. In an earlier era, a person might remember seeing a lawyer’s name in a newspaper, though not necessarily the details. But now the details are easy to find. Judith Griggs will likely see those comments about her for decades to come. The old mantra about any publicity has been destroyed by the web.

So what kind of publicity is likely to come to a law firm that advertises on FuneralHomes.com?  Those attorneys that think this might be a good way to find cases ought to consider the potential backlash from those that are offended by the concept and wish to write about the subject.

The bar for attorney advertising has been lowered to new depths. It now appears to rest six feet under.

Updated: I was reminded of an old post of my by a friend, where a law firm decided it would be savvy to advertise over a urinal.

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