Divorce attorney billboards and the $54MM lawsuit for lost pants

You know, I wasn’t going to comment on the “Life is Short, Get an Attorney” billboard in Chicago, but this week, I saw yet another news story about this billboard, and decided to share my thoughts.

First of all, I don’t think that the ad is overly offensive or will have long term impact on consumers’ perceptions of legal profession.There are many other things that cast a much deeper shadow on the legal profession, such as the $54MM lawsuit that was reported on earlier this week.The long story short is that a judge, Roy Pearson filed a lawsuit against a “mom and pop” dry-cleaner for losing a pair of the judge’s pants.This judge initially filed a $65MM lawsuit against the dry-cleaner for losing the pants.He dropped that initial claim, but is now suing for $54MM, focusing on claims that the dry-cleaner committed fraud and mislead the general public.

It’s bad enough that thing that this claim is actually tying up our legal system, but the fact that the plaintiff is a judge makes it even more ridiculous. So here we see why the general public has a negative perception of the legal profession, and it’s no wonder. Now before you jump all over me about my position, and this judge’s rights, let me point out that I also had a dry cleaner lose a suit – in fact an Armani suit, and while it was one of my favorites, I was able to suppress the tears, and ultimately made a claim to the dry cleaner’s insurance company, which paid me fair compensation for the suit. Was it a hassle?  Yes. Was I upset?  Sure. Was it worth filing an outlandish lawsuit, or grandstanding theatrics? Absolutely not.

OK, so back to the “Life is Short” billboard ad. I don’t think that this ad, in and of itself, tarnishes the image of the legal practice. As an experienced marketing executive, and one focused on the legal community, I think that what this does do is create a certain amount of notoriety for the law firm, Fetman, Garland, and Associates, itself.

An advertising campaign that is successful over the long term is one that addresses a pain and articulates a value proposition – these are what helps to build a brand, and it’s the brand, over time, that will attract cases and clients, not an individual ad whose sole purpose is to gain attention. A year from now, people might still be identifying Fetman, Garland, and Associates as “the firm with the billboard” as opposed to “the firm that gets its clients great results.” The firm may argue that their phones are ringing off the hook right now, and if so, that’s great. But over time, when an ad campaign fades, all that is left is the brand, and if you don’t have a brand, you’ve got a real problem.