We’ve all heard the lawyer jokes. We’ve seen the commercials with a badly dressed lawyer screaming into the TV about how much he can get for us. We’ve seen the blatantly manipulative ads filled with sappy music played over images of injured clients with a lawyer coming out at the end and pretending to care. We’ve seen the shows on TV where every lawyer who is not the protagonist is an ambulance chasing stereotype. And all of that’s not even considering how badly so many attorneys are portrayed in the news media.
As a result of all this, most people generally view the term “Legal Ethics” as a contradiction in terms right up there with “honest politics.” The practical reality is that people don’t entirely trust attorneys, even when they need to hire them. This presents a unique problem to individuals and law firms who are seeking to do mass market advertising for legal services. How do you get past the public’s preconception of lawyer dishonesty and get them to react to your advertising?
The first and most obvious rule of all is to tell the truth. This would seem to be common sense, but the fact that there is so much inaccurate advertising out there would seem to indicate that this is not the case. Sending out untrue advertising does nothing more than perpetuate the legal stereotype. If you’re not the best attorney in all of New York City or Los Angeles or Ames, Iowa, don’t send out a card bragging that you are. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
Another thing you need to be conscious of is the effect that hyperbole has on your potential clients. The prevalence of over the top hyperbole in legal advertising is one of the major reasons for the shady reputation of the legal profession. When every legal advertisement promises that the attorney can get you 10 million dollars for your hangnail, it casts doubt upon the whole profession.
The key is to present an image of a successful practice without sounding like a shill. There is nothing wrong with advertising the success of your firm. But if you do, you need to be sure that you are presenting those accomplishments in a subtle manner, painting yourself as a success without bragging about it or engaging in hyperbole. For example, sending out advertising to announce a huge, provable personal injury verdict or settlement is smart advertising. Saying that you routinely get huge verdicts when you do not and implying that you can get such verdicts at will for any client is not.
Also, you need to be aware of the image that your advertising presents. Given the fact that the majority of legal advertising has been so over the top for the last decade or so, garishly colored advertisements filled with hyperbole and worn mantras like “I will fight for you!” and “We will get you everything you deserve!” will turn off a potential client. They will make your firm seem second rate and questionable. Advertising is designed to be your first introduction to potential customers. So if you want to be perceived as a classy and professional firm, you need to make sure that your first presentation to the clients (i.e… the advertising) portrays your firm in the proper light.