The other day, I was watching television and I saw several commercials advertising divorce firms and personal injury firms. One ad featured a scene of nursing home neglect, followed by dramatic music and terms like “BEDSORES,” flashed across the screen in all-caps. Another ad featured William Shatner asking me if I needed legal help.

Two thoughts came to mind after watching these ads: (1) what shady television shows was I watching that would cause a legal marketer to decide that I was part of the target audience for people with issues relating to BEDSORES, and (2) does anyone actually decide to seek out a lawyer based on these seemingly ridiculous ads?

So I decided to investigate television advertising as a marketing technique for small and solo practitioners. Who, if anyone, stands to benefit from using television advertising?

Business-to-Business (B2B) Firms Should Not Waste Their Time.

I spoke with legal marketing experts Tom Matte, author of the blog Matte Pad, and Stephen Fairley, author of the Rainmaker Blog. Neither would recommend television ads to their clients. The reason was that their clients focused on B2B transactions.

Consumer Law Firms (PI, DUI, Family Law etc) May Consider TV Ads.

Lawyers practicing in areas affecting individual consumers may benefit from television ads. There are two important factors to consider, however, when determining whether or not to advertise on television.

(1) Budget:

According to Fairley, television ads are known as “interruption-based marketing,” meaning that they depend on interrupting the consumer who is trying to watch their favorite television show and get their attention for 30 seconds. All interruption-based marketing is dependent on multiple viewings (repetition) by the consumer of the same ad before they actually take action. So if you don’t have a big enough budget to repeat the ad multiple times on multiple channels, it likely won’t work.

(2) Competition:

Per Fairley, if you have a lot of competition already using television, then it may be a lost cause. This is because television is a learned expertise and he who has the most experience usually “wins” in advertising.

Cash-Strapped Lawyers May Consider Group Advertising.

If a small firm or solo does not have the capital for an exclusive television ad, there are group advertising programs using 1-800 numbers. These programs function one of two ways: the group is divided geographically (i.e., any call coming from an exclusive geographic location will be routed to the lawyer in that area), or sequentially (i.e., each lawyer gets a percentage of calls from any geographic area). There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. The geographic division ensures that a firm gets all calls from a given area, although there are qualitative differences between different territories. The sequential division allows a firm to cover a larger geographic area, but could mean that a lawyer does not get all repeat calls (e.g., a client calling the number a second time may be routed to a different lawyer). While neither method is perfect, both allow a solo or small firm with limited resources to participate in television advertising if such a marketing method is appealing.

Even if there are some pros to using television ads, and clearly many firms use them, I cannot help but feel dirty about this method of advertising. Indeed, reading between the lines of the information out there surrounding TV ads, this technique is most effective for unsophisticated consumers (and consumers without DVR). But don’t we owe it to these individuals — who are hurt, getting their children taken away, etc. — to market to them in a way that provides substantive information about a firm’s qualifications, rather than showing them professional actors and dramatic music?

Perhaps Ray Zolekhian, Skadden lawyer turned personal-injury attorney, would disagree with me, and so would many other small-firm lawyers who use television ads. What do you think? Please email me if you have strong views on the subject.

And if you are going to advertise on television, at least make the ads good! Check out these truly awful ads.


When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.


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