I’ve never liked advertising by lawyers. Before the 1970s it was unethical and prohibited by the Bar Association. I wish it were still that way, but the wheels of commerce turned and now you have “Sam” and “Call Lee Free” in your living rooms everyday dangling the carrot of easy money, if you’d just call. Easy money is also known as “You may be entitled to significant compensation.”
Doctors didn’t escape the degradation of hawking their services either. Until recently if you were driving toMidlandyou’d see a billboard touting the Hemorrhoid Clinics of America. What can you say about that? I’ve always wondered how many people driving on the freeway were wondering where to have hemorrhoid surgery and had their minds changed by a billboard?
It’s difficult to generalize about lawyer advertising. Virtually all of it is aimed at attracting personal injury suits. Nobody is going to spend thousands of dollars to write more $50 deeds. The only kind of advertising that makes economic sense is the kind that brings in $100,000 fees.
So, what are you seeing when you watch lawyers advertise on TV? You’re usually seeing one of two kinds of pitch. The first is the “vacuum the lake” approach. The firm takes in thousands of calls. Like gold mining, you have to go through a lot of ore to find any nuggets. The crackpots and wishful thinkers are discarded on the telephone. Cases are quickly examined for settlement value. If they look like they might pay off, a retainer agreement is sent out. Once signed, the attorneys have a lien on any money recovered in the case, even if another lawyer handles it.
The firm’s staff settles good cases. Marginal cases are spun off to satellite lawyers who might be willing to try and make something of them in return for giving a slice of the pie to the firm that referred it to them. If you settle enough of those cases, even if it’s for peanuts, you can make money. Since I’m a defense guy, I used to run into those same
lawyers with marginal cases all over the state. It’s hard work trying to make losers into winners.
The second kind of approach I think of as the “fine print” lawyers. These guys make a pitch for lawsuits like Vioxx or other drug cases. If you read the fine print you see that they are licensed to practice in a couple of states and if you call them your case will be referred to someone else. They won’t be representing you. That’s in that fine print at the bottom of the screen that you can hardly read.
Theses lawyers operate like an advertising agency that brings in cases and takes a cut from the firms they send the cases to. They’re brokers.
This kind of outfit resembles what the doctors have with “ghost surgery.” That’s people going to particular hospitals to have particular famous surgeons operate on them. Afterward they find out that Surgical Residents did the actual surgery and that famous Dr. Fumblefingers only dropped into the operating room for a few minutes and left. It’s medical bait and switch. I don’t know how prevalent it is now, but it was a major
scandal in the past. This is the legal version.
There’s a third kind of legal advertising that’s come about fairly recently.
The mesothelioma ads that seem to appear every two minutes are good examples. After huge class action lawsuits trust funds containing millions of dollars may be set up to compensate claimants. These firms
advertise for people that may qualify for money from the funds and process their claims for them, taking a cut of the proceeds. They’re not really advertising for possible lawsuits, they’re simply doing paperwork for claimants. That’s what many of those bad drug ads are about.
I can’t generalize about whether you get satisfactory services from these kinds of firms. One of the firms advertising locally on TV is top notch. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them for a second. The others? Well, I can’t imagine any lawyer using them, anymore than I can imagine a doctor choosing his own surgeon off a billboard. Still, if you don’t know anything about lawsuits or insurance claims I suppose this might satisfy you. Chances are you’ll never know whether you got good representation or not. It’s like airline food…it isn’t good, but you won’t starve either.