Reasonable Doubt: Over-the-top lawyer ads perpetuate myths

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      I must confess: I get a kick out of lawyer ads. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.

      Some ads send the message that the lawyer cares about the client but they can fall short. They have bad actors and hammed up sentiments. Those are tacky and tacky is just fine with me. My favourites are those that paint the lawyer as a warrior who will fight for you. They introduce the biggest and baddest (and loudest) barrister! And just like a blockbuster action movie, I know these overly dramatic ads are ridiculous. Still, I don’t deny that I enjoy catching them. And based on the numerous discussions I’ve had with colleagues, I’m not alone!

      The more over the top they are, the better. And of course, the ads in the U.S. are one notch above ours. It’s hard to put to words what I think of when I see them. I am fascinated with someone boldly putting themselves out there. I am dying to know how well the ads work in getting clients in the door. Mostly, I’m torn between cringing and chuckling. I cringe at the apparent caricature of a lawyer persona. But I chuckle because these lawyers seem to be able to laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously. Immortalizing the Sal Goodmans, Lionel Hutzes, and Barry Zuckercorns in pop culture is one thing. It’s another matter when it’s real life practicing lawyers portraying themselves in the media.

      I have friends and family who remember watching The Simpsons in the 1990s and being treated to ads of Jim “The Hammer” Shapiro. The nickname says it all for the New York lawyer. Earlier this year, a Georgia lawyer bought a time slot during the Super Bowl and aired the mother of all lawyer ads. Walls of fire, sledge hammer, religious imagery, dramatic storyline of corruption and intrigue—you name it.

      In British Columbia, we don’t have ads of lawyers brandishing nicknames and resorting to military jargon. So what’s stopping a lawyer in B.C. from going on TV with a Viking helmet on, katana in one hand, and two alligators on a chain leash in the other? That might be a recipe for a viral video but I suspect the Law Society of B.C. would take issue with it. They certainly don’t help the public image of the legal profession.

      Lawyers are bound by the Code of Professional Conduct. Lawyers are prohibited from marketing anything that is false, inaccurate, unverifiable, misleading, or contrary to the best in interest of the public. On a broader level, this also means maintaining the integrity and reputation of the profession. The Law Society could be concerned that an ad hurts public confidence in the legal services.

      Thinking about these types of ads begs some bigger questions. Do they show what clients want in their lawyer? Is there a belief that a lawyer is someone you hire to be a “warrior”? That the lawyer’s role is to exact punishment on the other side and stop at nothing for their client?

      If this is the perception of the lawyer’s role, then it is a myth. Negotiations, discussions, and even disagreements aren’t generally so fiery. In my experiences, the chest thumping and hollering promised in ads don’t get the best results. Those tactics just get tuned out by the opposing side or, even worse, by a judge. The vast majority of lawyers believe that effective and persuasive advocacy for a client is best done when both sides are cordial. There is a folksy saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar that comes to mind.

      Lawyers are a common subject for movies and TV. It’s not surprising that these portrayals are sensational and exaggerated. Perhaps what’s surprising is that the most extreme cases of lawyer portrayals are those that come from the lawyers themselves!

      Kevin Yee is a lawyer at Stevens Virgin who practices general civil litigation and personal injury law. Reasonable Doubt appears on on Fridays. You can send your questions for the column to its writers at

      A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.




      Jul 11, 2014 at 12:35pm

      The law society should not "be concerned that an ad hurts public confidence in the legal services". Lawyers themselves do enough already to hurt public confidence, no ads needed. Lawyers seem to think only the criminals have rights and that victims deserve what they get. They all suck!!


      Jul 11, 2014 at 2:04pm

      The comments here are worth the price of admission.

      "They all suck!!"

      Jul 11, 2014 at 5:46pm

      <blockquote>Lawyers seem to think only the criminals have rights and that victims deserve what they get. They all suck!!</blockquote>

      Yeah, those Crown Prosecutors, all on the side of the perpetrators who they're, um, trying to convict.

      Oh, wait...


      LSBC Interference

      Jul 12, 2014 at 11:55am

      Lawyers must not really care about their rights---that code of conduct violates the right to expression, which is the foundation of all other rights, because without a pretty much absolute, inviolable and inalienable right to expression it becomes all to easy to find reasons to suggest that someone expressing his view of his rights is a "wrong." History is full of far too many examples of this to make it necessary to cite any.

      We are a priest-besotted nation, and in it our priests won't even admit to their theological leanings. They drape them in occult terminology, like "code of conduct," as though calling it that were really making it so much different from "canon law."

      Popehat's take on this sort of thing

      Jul 16, 2014 at 6:46pm

      Popehat (Ken White), and American lawyer and blogger (and a damned fine writer) has an interesting take on a "lawyer" suing the bar in South Carolina over them proposing to sanction him.

      He's got a truly wonderful and humorous way of crafting a phrase that captures the essence of a situation.

      Not sure if I agree with his strong First Amendment take on this issue, but it's certainly worth reading: