Soon after the Super Bowl concluded, I received an email from a college classmate, addressed to me and another attorney from our class: “Did you guys see this Super Bowl ad that ran only in Georgia last night? As attorneys, perhaps it speaks to your own professional pride.” The link was to personal injury attorney Jamie Casino’s two-minute tale of sin and redemption (with a prominent flaming sledgehammer), described variously as “the Most Insanely Epic Super Bowl Ad Last Night” (Slate) and “Ridiculously Badass” (Adweek) and “Batshit Amazing” (Deadspin).
Four points come to mind.
First, the ad was only possible because of Georgia’s sensible rules on attorney marketing. In many states, like Florida, Casino’s ad would have been prohibited by absurd Bar Association rules that go so far as to “prohibit images of an American flag, the Statue of Liberty, and a cactus,” as I discussed back in December. You can see in the comments to my post about Florida’s rules former Georgia Bar President Ken Shigley describing the sensible approach they took, which simply prohibits “false, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading” advertisements, and then requires certain disclaimers.
Second, to all the traditionalists who believe that flashy ads like Casino’s inherently demean the legal profession, I say, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, is there anything more American than advertising? Whatever the ad’s positives and negatives, the ad tells potential clients a lot about Jamie Casino — and that’s a good thing. Lawyers are not wholly interchangeable. The reason that superlatives like “best” and the like are sometimes prohibited in attorney advertising is because they’re meaningless, and Jamie Casino’s ad is anything but meaningless.
However, just because Jamie Casino should be able to make such an ad doesn’t mean that he should actually do it.
The third point that jumps out at me is that the “meaning” found in that ad is quite troubling. Much as I can relate to the promotion of my own field of work (representing plaintiffs, which Casino just started doing in 2012) as a noble calling — I myself have been asked “Daddy, what do you do when you go to work?” and, though the answer has changed over time as my kids have grown and learned more about the world, I’ve always been comfortable with the answer — I’m dismayed by his negative portrayal of his former field, criminal-defense. In his prior work as a criminal-defense lawyer, did he break ethical rules? Did he conspire with clients to commit crimes? If not, then what’s the problem? What is he ashamed of? The ethical practice of criminal defense?
He’s of course allowed to have whatever opinion he wants, and to practice in whatever field he wants, but when he starts implying that criminal-defense representation is inherently immoral or repugnant in an advertisement watched by millions of non-lawyers, he does a terrible disservice to our whole justice system, from the Constitution to the public defenders. Did he need an answer for his kid about what he did when he went to work as a criminal defense lawyer (as repeatedly stated in the ad)? How about “I stand up for our rights” or “I make sure the cops have the right guy” or “I make sure people are punished fairly when they do something wrong.” Want to see what it would be like living without strong individual rights? Read the news about Ukraine, where criticizing the government or even wearing a helmet is a crime.
Fourth, for more than a century the standard advice for personal injury lawyers (and criminal-defense lawyers) has been “get your name in the papers.” In the past 50 years, that changed to “on television,” and in the past 10 years it changed to “on the Internet,” and Jamie Casino has most certainly succeeded at that. I’m sure his phone is indeed ringing off the hook, and that he’ll even get some good cases out of it. It’ll have some additional benefits down the line, too, thanks to what psychologists call the “mere-exposure effect” — if people have seen something before, they’ll tend to think more favorably about it, even if they don’t remember having seen it. (That’s part of why advertisers bother with Super Bowl ads; even if you consciously forget the ad, you subconsciously remember the brand.)
But all that only really helps attract people who see the ad and forget it. What about the potential and current clients who watched it and remember it negatively? As Eric Turkewitz says:
If he will diss his former criminal defense clients today, and claim to have been in their employ, what will he say about his current clients tomorrow? How do you trust someone who will rip into his prior clients? This isn’t just a question of being fickle in his choice of practice areas — anyone ought to be able to move around for a multitude of reasons — but calling them “cold-hearted villains?”
Indeed. And what of the jurors who find it online? As Turkewitz noted last year:
On the criminal defense side, a lawyer can, perhaps, be a bit outspoken and a bit bombastic if s/he wants, the way William Kunstler was and his protege Ron Kuby is. But criminal defense lawyers don’t have the burden of proof and only need to convince one juror to save the client from the gray bar hotel. It gives them, in the eyes of some, a bit more elbow room to be a big personality.
Plaintiff lawyers in civil suits, however, have the burden of proof. We can’t afford quite as easily to have have a couple jurors dislike us. In New York, for example, we need five out of six jurors to persevere.
Jamie Casino has apparently been practicing personal injury law for just over a year now, having made the switch in 2012. He will find that it takes more to succeed in this field than sanctimony and stupid metaphors.