December 6, 2010

Bad Attorney Advertisements, Part 2

For our second installment of this intermittent series of posts, I have an ad that passes one test but fails another. The ad in question takes the form of a magnet, attached to one of the three local yellow pages. The firm in question must have paid a tremendous amount of money to get the one magnet ad available.  This is what they chose to put on it:

Now, Messrs. "Beeblebrox" and "Prefect" (names changed) paid probably more than any other single advertiser in the book, in the hopes that people would peel the magnets off the back of the yellow pages and put them on their refrigerators, just in case they ever needed someone to represent them in a personal injury suit.

I give them credit for one thing. The ad has focus. You look at the ad and you know what this firm does -- personal injury work. They represent people who have been hurt.

What I really don't like here, though, is that the print on the ad is so damned small you have no idea what is going on. For some reason, the ad is cluttered will all sorts of verbiage, so that nary a single square millimeter of the expensive ad space lacks information. You can't read very clearly in my scan of the ad, and in fact you can't read very clearly in the original thing, that "Zaphod Beeblebrox" is a former instructor at two Universities You May Have Heard Of, that he is a "Senior Partner" in this law firm, that he is a member of the Consumer Attorneys of California and the American Trial Lawyers Association. What you see is itty bitty tiny thin letters that say something, which may or may not be about the man pictured in the upper-left corner of the ad, and if you squint at them they sound sort of lawyer-like.

The typical layperson probably doesn't appreciate the fact that attorneys who teach do so typically either for extra money or because it is something fun and different than litigation (both of which are true for me). If you want someone who is all-litigation, all the time, someone who teaches classes isn't that. If you know something about how law is taught in a law school, you may not necessarily think that the Socratic method is a particularly good way to prepare for presenting a case to a jury or, more important, working a case up to prepare for settlement. The Socratic method is useful to train new attorneys in figuring out important abstract concepts. But it isn't going to help your discovery disputes very much and is only of marginal utility in a courtroom setting -- because in a good examination, the examiner is providing the bulk of the information, not the examinee.

It is my belief that a layperson will have no idea what the phrase "Senior Partner" means, but the idea that a guy whose name is on the door would be something other than a key decision-maker for the firm is alien. Of course this guy is the one who calls the shots. It doesn't matter what he calls himself.

Then, why is he advertising his membership in ATLA and CAC? These are vaguely lawyer-like things that may sound impressive but don't convey much information to the layperson about what they mean. If you do know what it means to be in ATLA and CAC, you aren't surprised that a guy advertising for personal injury work is in them, because for the most part, ATLA and CAC are organizations of personal injury attorneys. In fact, there are some benefits to membership in these groups, but they are technical, behind-the-scenes sorts of things, which will not be obvious to the layperson and in fact most clients would be uncomfortable learning about ("You mean you let someone else write your pleadings for you?" referring to the pleading banks available to ATLA/CAC members).

So when you peer through the micro-print, what you find isn't of much substantive help to the consumer looking for an attorney. It's just... stuff.

Then there's the rest of it.  "95% success rate since 1984." I sort of like the "since 1984" part of that, because it tells me that there are very experienced attorneys at this firm. The "95% success rate," though, is deceptive -- this rate looks an awful lot to my eye like the number of cases upon which the firm has collected money, mainly through settlements. But it sounds like they take 95% of their cases to trial and win. If they had actually done that, they wouldn't have had time to recover over $100 million for their thousands of satisfied clients.

I've never known why there are long laundry lists of different ways one can be personally injured, but there are always these sorts of things in P.I. advertisements. I guess it's because someone, somewhere, thinks that an attorney who will take an auto accident case won't take a motorcycle accident case. (Motorcycle cases work just like auto cases, except the motorcyclist tends to be much more severely injured.) The six categories of cases listed really only compromise two kinds of work -- personal injury and workers' compensation cases.

The most important parts of the advertisement come below this laundry list -- they will come to you, 24/7, they will not charge you any out-of-pocket fees, they will arrange for free towing for your vehicle and financial help for medical care and other needs of the injured. (This looks like they will help pay you while your case is pending, which I know not to be true; they're talking about doing medical care and other getting other services on liens. But that's a bit deceptive.) If I were an injured person, these would be the things I cared about most. What can these attorneys do for me, and can they do it right now? This is buried towards the bottom of the ad and in smaller print, indicating that it is of lesser importance to the author of the ad than the other, more prominent things.

The most prominent thing on the ad is the photograph of the attorney. Valuable space was taken up describing the attorney's credentials, which look good on the surface but turn out to have little substance. After that, the next most prominent part of the ad is the description of the attorneys as "INJURY ATTORNEYS" followed by a big box describing how much money they've made. Who is the real target of this advertisement here -- the potential clients of the attorney, or his ego?

I'm being too unkind. The ad is focused, it does guide and encourage the right kinds of clients to the attorney, it provides useful information about what the attorney can do. But I think it hasn't been thought through from the audience's point of view. If the target is injured people looking for a lawyer, the lawyer has to offer something to that audience, front and center. I don't care where the attorney teaches, I care whether he is going to get my medical bills paid. I don't care if he's a good-looking man, I care that he's going to make sure I don't have an interruption in my income flow so I can provide for my family. I don't care what fraternal societies he has joined, I care whether I am going to have to pay him before or after I get back to work and have money in my bank account again.

This is there, but it's not prominent enough. I give the ad an "A" for focus, a "C" for content, and a "D" for poor organization and cluttered visual appeal. For the amount of money that went in to circulating a fridge-magnet ad, I'm sure that Beeblebrox & Prefect could have done better than this.

2 comments:

Francisco Castelo Branco said...

you have that kind of advertisements?

here in portugal, that advertisement is forbidden.

the profession of lawyer is not to sail services but offer help..

Transplanted Lawyer said...

A little thing I like to call "the First Amendment" requires the government to tolerate attorney advertisements, so long as they do not make objectively false statements.

So since we have to live with lawyers advertising, I would like to think they would do it well.