We’ve all seen them; the TV commercials where lawyers (or actors pretending to be lawyers) make menacing faces at the camera promising to “fight for you” while deafening screeching noises play over a sepia toned image of a slow-motion car accident, and a phone number (1-800-LAW-YERZ) dramatically appears on the screen.

Let’s take a closer look at several the kitschy commercials and later, their more respectable counterparts.

Exhibit 1: “This attorney should probably stick to his day job.”

  • Airtime is used as a platform for robotic line deliveries, unnatural dialogue, and tacky reenactments.
  • The attorney points at the camera and aggressively says “we’ll fight for you” or delivers a knee-slappin’-good “lawyer joke.”Clients’ do not generally appreciate bad acting or awful comedy

Presumably, when a client contacts an attorney it is because he or she requires legal services from a trustworthy person. If executed correctly, a commercial can be an effective way of broadcasting a positive image.

Exhibit 2: “This attorney has no idea who his clients are or how reach out to them.”

Equally painful to watch are commercials that target populations in an absurd way. Case in point:

Although demographic analysis will precisely identify potential new clients, a superficial survey can help determine which populations might be receptive and which ones won’t be. If, for example, a DUI defense attorney aggressively advertises in an area where most residents use public transportation, he or she is not likely to see a great increase in clientele.

Exhibit 3” “This attorney has an extremely confusing message.”

A closer look at this commercial does not reveal much:

The ad – for a firm that defends individuals injured in automobile accidents – opens with a slow-motion scene of two individuals going off of a snow ramp on an air mattress and landing painfully. Not only does the mattress/car metaphor not make any sense, but also it distracts viewers from the practice’s purpose. (Also, how often to people go mattress sledding in Southern California?)

When commercials concentrate too much on being funny or using gimmicks, the firm’s message is obscured. When it becomes impossible to see beyond the wigs, un-witty banter, unclear metaphors, and cheap sound effects, it might be best to take the commercial in a different direction.

Exhibit 4: “This attorney sounds like a cast member of the Jersey Shore.

When an attorney refers to himself in the third person and as a noun (“I am The [fearsome noun]!”) it sends a message that he doesn’t take his practice seriously. You want your clients to know that you are on their side and that you will work hard to make sure they get the justice they deserve, but calling yourself The Crusher or The Litigator makes you sound more like a pro-wrestler than a professional attorney.

Sometimes, attorney commercials can actually be pretty good. Take for example this one:

This commercial stands out from the others in three ways:

  • The acting is actually good – the “injured” actress and even the voice-over actor had good comedic timing.
  • The humor communicates the seriousness of personal injury law – the ad shows that people who need personal injury lawyers are those who are truly injured and in need of legal assistance.
  • The ad makes fun of the traditional attorney commercial – it distinguished itself from its competitors, making the firm seem creative and leaving potential clients with a lasting good impression.

If you’d rather not go for humor – and not every firm should – try for sincerity. This commercial, though dramatic, has an honest tone:

The two clients seem authentic and don’t appear to be scripted, an important feature for testimonials.

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