Monday, March 10, 2014

Thanks, Dan (maybe)

My wife showed me this clip from YouTube last week and I didn't know whether to laugh or nod my head derisively as I stood there watching. The one thought that kept going through my head was that this can't possibly be a legit commercial. There's just no way.


... it is legit.

Now the question becomes, is it a good thing or a bad thing? At some point we have to face the facts. And the fact is that, as Scott Greenfield is willing to tell us, we have entered the age of walking down the street wearing hot pants looking for clients.

Daniel Muessig says as much in an interview he gave to Slate magazine.

Our business model was long built on word-of-mouth. You do a good job for a client and they tell other folks who need help to call you. You have friends in the white collar world who wouldn't know who to call if they ended up getting arrested and they will tell their friends (in confidence) to call you when the need arises.

It took time but after years of diligent work a criminal defense lawyer built up a reputation in the courthouse and in the community. He was the attorney no one ever wanted to call - but it was a good thing to have that number near the phone just in case.

But with advertising and marketing we are rapidly finding ourselves near the finish line in the race to the bottom. Dignity doesn't matter. It's all about generating leads and getting prospects. Word of mouth and reputation take too long in our current age of instant gratification. Who wants to spend the time doing a good job for their clients and waiting for that one big payday down the road? Why do that when you can have it all now?

Mr. Muessig's commercial is funny. I laugh every time I watch it. On the one hand he is skewering all the stereotypes people have of criminal defense lawyers. His closing line that he's also Jewish with the revolving Star of David is the icing on the cake.

But, humor aside, what does this ad mean for the future of our profession. And I stress that the practice of law is not a business but a profession. It's not about maximizing profits and increasing the number of bodies walking through that door. It's about providing a service to people in their time of need. That's something we can never lose sight of.

People hire us because they think we can get them out of a jam or make a bad situation a little more tolerable. That takes considerably more skill than filming a funny commercial and posting it on YouTube. Ours is a craft that is changing constantly. The laws change and the courts' opinions change over time. The composition of our juries - and the sources through which they get their news and information - changes over time.

The constant are our roles of representing our client's best interests and defending their rights. And how committed you are to those roles isn't measured by how funny your commercial is or how cutting edge your marketing strategy is. Your commitment is measured by those folks who give your name and number to a friend or loved on who is in need of help.

That is something that will never change.

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