Welcome to The Briefcase

Commentary and analysis of Ohio criminal law and whatever else comes to mind, served with a dash of snark.  Continue Reading »


Truth in advertising

I posted this in June of 2009. 

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.

UPDATE:  Bernard is still doing personal injury work, but the last post on his blog was in October.


Recent Entries

  • January 17, 2018
    What's Up in the 8th
    When not to decide cases on allied offenses and pre-indictment delay
  • January 11, 2018
    Case Update
    Three new decisions from the Ohio Supreme Court
  • January 10, 2018
    To the barricades!
    Why I'm a threat to the Ohio state government
  • January 5, 2018
    Search and seizure in the digital age
    Do the cops need a warrant to get cell phone data?
  • January 3, 2018
    What's Up in the 8th
    We talk about me a lot, but there's some other stuff, too
  • January 2, 2018
    He's baaaack
    So I thought I'd start my first post in six weeks by explaining why it's my first post in six weeks. Ever run into somebody and ask the obligatory question, "How are you doing?" And they proceed to tell you...
  • November 15, 2017
    What's Up in the 8th
    Plea withdrawals (again), sexual predator hearings, and an appellate law question
  • November 7, 2017
    What's Up in the 8th
    Don't listen to prosecutors about the law, good new/bad news jokes on appeal, and the Byzantine course of a death penalty case
  • October 24, 2017
    What's Up in the 8th
    Trying to change the past
  • October 16, 2017
    En banc on sentencing
    The 8th District takes a look at what State v. Marcum means