There is an ad on the Internet purporting to be by a criminal defense lawyer looking for business in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have no way of knowing if this person is actually a lawyer licensed to practice law in any state. I will not make that assumption without proof. Although there is a city named Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Here is the link: Criminal lawyer's ad is subversive, sarcastic and pretty awesome Move over, Saul Goodman. Step aside, Lionel Hutz
Let us assume this is a real lawyer and a genuine legal advertisement; if so lawyers and bar associations will debate the merits of allowing such legal advertising and conclude whether it goes over the line of acceptable, permissible or smart legal advertising. For me the answer is it is not permissible under Iowa law nor is it something lawyers will do or clients will ultimately see as helpful to their defense.
I understand the Internet, legal marketing, the rules of ethics in Iowa and have my own opinions on what is permissible or should be permitted. I have watched the video and at first blush it is humorous, but after dissecting the content I would suggest the appropriate bar associations ban it and order the lawyer to take it down.
The problems are so numerous it is hard to know where to begin and end so allow me to point out the most obvious. Listen to what the script states: He doesn't say "accused of a crime" but "criminals who have committed a crime". Oh yeah the state and national bar associations is going to have a field day with this statement.
While I understand what the ad is trying to do, how it is being done might get a real lawyer in trouble with the bar association because it paints lawyers in not only an unflattering light but could be interpreted as encouraging criminal activity and getting criminals out of jail so they can commit more crime.
We can debate the irony and comic side of things, but never forget who controls the enforcement of the ethical rules and what those rules are intended to do. In the Midwest we can push this legal Internet thing only so far before they make what we do costly with lawsuits. If this lawyer wants to spend his time with lawsuits all the way up to the US Supreme Court that is his right. From a business standpoint I'm not going to waste money fighting when there are easier ways to ethically advertise. I would rather lay low and let the other guy spend his money arguing his and my First Amendment rights. Good luck with that one.
Let us take a look at what the video script states:
- “Crimes Committed”, not crimes accused of committing. As these criminals pull on hooded masks and cock the chamber of a handgun to load a bullet they thank Dan.
- Crimes Committed, guy crawling out someone’s window as he steals a laptop, he thanks Dan.
- Crimes Committed, Conspiracy, he is using a money counter and thanks Dan.
- “Consequences, they sure suck don’t they?” (2:14)
- I am the Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Pittsburgh criminals hire when they commit crimes.” Not accused of committing crimes, but commit crimes.
Assuming this is a licensed lawyer, how does this not invite an ethics complaint. And why would anyone accused of a crime, that is not guilty, hire a lawyer advertising you are guilty? This is not a smart way to attract clients.
In 1984 Marc Humphrey et al came out with TV ads for PI cases. The bar had a fit and obtained an injunction - the fight was on all the way to the US Supreme Court. They lost but ultimately they were proven right. It took the Iowa Bar 30 years to catch up with what they were saying. Who has thirty years to prove a point about advertising? Not me. While I may sit back and applaud their efforts and watch I would rather use my time with representing clients.
But if this is a real lawyer practicing in Pittsburgh he has made a huge mistake with this YouTube ad. He is telling the world he represents not people accused of crimes, but criminals. Who in their right mind would hire a criminal defense lawyer who has already told the world he represents criminals? I can see the jury smiling at his client and drawing their index finger across their throat as if to say, “You are guilty.”
So the bottom line is all sarcasm aside, this ad goes beyond funny and is a disservice to the clients he does represent. Think about how the judges and juries will view his clients when they have seen this commercial. "Oh you must be a criminal, must have done the crime, must be desperate and you've hired this scum bag lawyer so you must be guilty."
That message can be compared with Coke advertising they sell soda with rats in the bottle. Good luck with that brand.