Lawyers and law firms often forget exactly how limited they are by ethical rules about advertising. These limitations keep us all in a small (although not so neat) little box.
How small is the box which regulates lawyer advertising? There can be no better contrast between business advertising and legal business advertising than this Paris Hilton commercial for the Hardee's / Carl Jr hamburger chain [a MUST see since it sets the bar for mixing sex and message in advertising].
Now, after watching the video, watch it again and imagine (or fantasize if you wish) that Paris was selling legal services. Not an injury lawywer advertisement. Imagine a clever ad about alternative billing. Imagine the ad is so novel it gets played nationally on the news and receives hundreds of thousands of hits on the world wide web each day.
While lawyers struggle with issues such as client endorsements and blogging advertising policies, other US businesses actively mix sex, luxury vehicles, a lot of water, a hose, major tongue action and a barely clothed Paris Hilton to get the consumer's attention so they can broadcast their barbecue burger message.
After seeing the video, I am struck that the lawyer advertising box is indeed as tiny as Paris' bikini. I admit that I am indeed jealous of other businesses which have almost limitless ways to get out their message.
Would I want Paris to market my message of "changing the way law is practiced" ... My immediate thought is 'hell yes' (although I admit that I might be somewhat dazed from Paris' burger commercial ... her video talents are legendary). Instead of struggling to get my message of change and innovation heard, the message would drop like a atom bomb. And I thought blogs were great.
Advertising has always been a cornerstone of American business. Good advertisement added to a quality product delivers market (and yes financial) success. I think I heard it called capitalism once; capitalism in the true sense of what was originally intended by Adam Smith and re-introduced by Adam Smith, Esquire. I am not talking about today's capitalism which I think we all realize is a function of momentum, money and power at this point, far more than talent or value.
When marketing meets muscle, entire service markets are changed and even created. You don't see that in the law, probably because many think it would be prohibited by ethical rules concerning lawyer advertising.
Ask yourself. Where do legal consumer turn for information when they hire a lawyer? Even with today's Internet, the number one complaint of prospective clients is that they don't know how to hire a lawyer. Of course, the rich know who they are and which ones are most connected. What about he average business person, the middle class Joe or the upwardly mobile Jane? Don't they deserve information and alternatives?
It makes me wonder, if Paris Hilton endorsed a law firm by labeling a firms alternative billing model "That's Cool!" while wearing nothing but a skimpy bikini, would the public really be in jeopardy of being deceived? It is an extreme example but one that makes you think. Don't limitations on advertising leave most legal consumers completely in the dark, or worse, left to the back page of the yellow book? What's worse, Paris in a bikini pushing value billing or leaving clients to guess about law firms (loaded question). How about, can't we loosen up the advertising rules for non-personal injury/employment advertising?
Handcuffing lawyers from distinguishing themselves from their competition is simply protecting the status quo. It is time to overhaul the lawyer advertising rules with a system that protects consumers from misrepresentation, but allows law firms to freely and creatively inform and entice consumers with alternatives to the traditional law firm.
I agree there is a professionalism difference here so don't leave a comment lawyers are different than burgers. Da. If that's your comment, you miss the point completely. The question is not we are a higher grade product than a Hardee's burger with spicy barbecue sauce dripping down the sides (Hmm, maybe that would be a good debate after all). The question is are we killing innovation on non-contingency fee business models by severely limiting advertisement by lawyers. The question is whether we are so busy trying convincing ourselves that advertising is unprofessional, we have forgotten to integrate professionalism in our practices where it counts.
My god, have we really convinced ourselves that we are saving the profession by killing the free speech of lawyers about the profession itself. And if lawyers don't say it in advertisements, where do they say it to the broader public? Church?
And what the hell are we protecting exactly. The answer supposedly is that we are protecting the institution of law itself. But those institutions are not focused on upholding lady justice in today's legal market (oh, can you imagine Paris as Lady Justice?). The institution is an army powerful machines of hourly billing focused on greed and ego (I can almost see Paris "lady" Justice battling hourly billing killing machines ...).
I am too hungry for a Spicy Barbecue Burger to write any more ....[GAL leaves the blogosphere trying to find his car keys and a late night window @ Hardee's ...]