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Is This Law Firm Ad Unethical?

The Nixon Peabody quarter-page ad that appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal showed a thoughtful-looking man above the headline, "I need lawyers who are more concerned about managing my risks than their own." Below that, the body of the ad said, "If your lawyers seem more concerned about enumerating your options than helping you choose among them, you might wonder whose interests are really being served."

The ad "really disturbed me," writes legal-marketing professional (and self-described contrarian) Bruce W. Marcus at his blog The Marcus Perspective. Why? Because he sees it as an example of the kind of dirty-tricks advertising that characterizes political campaigns seeping into the legal profession. Most law-firm advertising is bad and appears to be written by agencies that are clueless about the legal profession, Marcus contends.

But this one looks like it was written by someone trained in political dirty tricks advertising. Does the advertising law firm really thinks it has to insult the profession to make its point? Does it really need to put down other lawyers, as if they were opposing candidates in an election campaign?

The ad may raise ethical questions, Marcus believes, "but even before that is a question of professionalism and taste. I would be surprised if half the profession doesn't feel sullied by this ad."

The very tag line that concerns Marcus appears prominently on the Nixon Peabody home page and the firm's series of print ads is displayed elsewhere on the site. Marcus's comments point to a quandary firms face in their advertising. They are ethically prohibited from directly comparing themselves to other firms unless the comparison can be substantiated factually. At the same time, as competition among firms grows more intense, they must somehow distinguish themselves from the lawyers across the street. Of the four ads shown on the firm's Web site, only the one Marcus describes strikes me as getting too close to crossing the line. With a little rewriting, the ad could have made the same point with a bit more subtlety.

What do you think? Do these ads read like a dirty-tricks campaign? Or do they make legitimate points that fall short of comparisons?

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on April 23, 2008 at 12:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)


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