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Truth in advertising

Andy Warhol once remarked that, in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.  My own take is that in the future, everyone will have their own blog.  Or at least every lawyer.  When I started this blog over three years ago, there weren't more than a few others in Ohio; now there are dozens, with several targeted at the criminal defense bar.  Even the big law firms are getting into the act; as Legal Blog Watch notes, over 40% of the top 200 firms now have blogs, up 110% from just two years ago.

Of course, there's a downside:  if you're not careful, you can wind up like Kirk Bernard, a Seattle lawyer whose blogging efforts won him the Asshat Lawyer of the Day award.  That's the fifth hit that comes up when you Google Bernard's name, and is bracketed by another one asking rhetorically whether he's a thief, and one labeling him a slimeball.

Kirk's sin was being a little too aggressive, marketing-wise.  His blogging style differs substantially from mine; instead of insight leavened with heavy doses of snark, Bernard's hews to a strictly formulaic style in which news of some tragic automobile accident (apparently taken verbatim from press reports) is followed by notice that Kirk's firm handles exactly that kind of case.  This reached a nadir the other week with the following post:

A five-year-old Vancouver boy and his parents were in a serious car accident in Washington on Sunday near Chelan. The boy is in critical condition in a Seattle hospital and the crash claimed the life of his parents.

At Bernard Law Group, we handle Seattle personal injury lawsuits that are the results of auto accidents in Washington State every day. Call our attorneys at 1-800-XXX-XXXX. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Interestingly, that post has apparently been removed from the web site.  Not exactly an outlier, though; in his post for May 13, 2009, Kirk upped the ante, apparently figuring that a dead 5-year-old kid was better than one who'd merely been orphaned:  The post opened with the news that "Monday afternoon, just east of Gold Bar, a 5-year-old boy died in a vehicle crash," followed by the same entreaty to consult the Bernard Law Group.

This engendered an outcry from various quarters by lawyers shocked -- shocked -- that one of their brethren would attempt to profit from human suffering.  So brazenly, that is.  After all, the difference between Bernard's efforts and those of other attorneys is one of degree, not kind.  A while back I mentioned a Boston criminal firm which adheres to the same technique:  a news story about a man arrested for raping a woman who was found unconscious in a mens room was followed by the firm's eager announcement that "our law firm would be happy to discuss your rape case with you during a free consultation."  And I also mentioned a Chicago law firm which sought divorce clients with an ad featuring a man and woman in an advanced state of undress above the caption, "Life's short.  Get a divorce." 

That's just on the web sites and blogs.  Here in Cleveland, a staple of late-night television is ads by a local attorney advising potential personal injury clients that if they sign up with him, he'll take on the insurance company and "make them pay."  Alas, a Lexis search of Ohio publications does not disclose news of his achieving any major settlements or jury verdicts, and a call to a few insurance defense attorneys I know did not elicit a frightened shudder when I mentioned his name.

And then there was the criminal lawyer I once knew who had engraved the following slogan on his business cards:  "Reasonable doubt for a reasonable fee."  Catchy, no?

While the angst over Bernard's brazenness is understandable, it's probably a bit late in the day to inject good taste as a consideration for lawyer advertising.  The whole thing reminds me of one wag's observation that it's too bad 90% of lawyers give the other 10% a bad name.


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