Lawyers ramp up the drama in TV, Internet advertising
March 10, 2014 11:28 PM
Pittsburgh criminal lawyer Daniel Muessig, standing outside the Allegheny County Jail, has a YouTube ad that has gone viral.
By Kim Lyons / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Daniel Muessig raised eyebrows with his unorthodox, slickly-produced, YouTube video commercial with a hip-hop soundtrack last week -- in no small part because he said, among other things, "Laws are arbitrary.”
“I may be a lawyer, but I think like a criminal,” Mr. Muessig says in the video. “I’m the Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Pittsburgh criminals hire when they commit crimes.”
The video has gone viral, with more than 100,000 views, and Mr. Muessig said he has been interviewed by media outlets ranging from sports-themed website Deadspin to the venerable BBC.
“To be honest, my goal was not to create a media firestorm, it was to get more clients,” he said Monday. “I just wanted to do my job more and make more money, try more cases.”
For Savannah, Ga., personal injury attorney Jamie Casino, an over-the-top local Super Bowl ad complete with a flaming sledgehammer and heavy metal soundtrack has reportedly led to a deal for a reality television show. Mr. Casino’s ad, in which he says his brother’s death led him to switch from his practice of criminal defense, has more than 5 million views on YouTube alone.
But is a nationwide reach of any business value to an attorney? Mr. Casino is only licensed to practice in Georgia, and Mr. Muessig is only licensed in Pennsylvania.
“It’s a weird situation,” Mr. Muessig said. While he knows talking to national and international media is unlikely to drum up a lot of new clients, “I feel a compulsive need to do any interview request because if I don’t, I’ll get slammed in absentia.”
For Edgar Snyder, who was the first lawyer to air television commercials in Pennsylvania, Mr. Muessig’s video is “not my style.”
"But just because I wouldn't do it, it doesn't mean I think he shouldn't," Mr. Snyder said. "I respect the fact that he tried something unorthodox, and that he has the right to do what he's doing."
He added that if Mr. Muessig’s goal was exposure and publicity, his effort was successful.
Mr. Snyder said his first television ads, 32 years ago, were considered “unprofessional” by other lawyers at the time.
“Today, I get compliments even from judges about how dignified they are,” he said. “What may seem extreme today, in 10 years may not seem so in-your-face.”
Rules for lawyer advertising in Pennsylvania adopted in 1994 require that ads be truthful and not create unjustifiable expectations.
Mr. Muessig said the feedback to his commercial has been mostly positive, but the reactions have fit into one of two categories. “People are either utterly infuriated by it, or they really like it,” he said. “There’s really very little, if any, middle ground.”
Veteran criminal defense attorney Patrick J. Thomassey, whose firm is based in Monroeville, is not ambivalent in his feelings about the ad. "I think it's pathetic," he said, "and it shows how the legal profession is circling the bowl."
Mr. Thomassey said he resented the image Mr. Muessig created in the video and he thinks it sends the wrong message. He's not really a fan of any lawyers advertising, Mr. Thomassey added.
"When this stuff started, it turned it into a business and it's been downhill ever since," he said. "For 40 years, guys like me have tried to show people we're not scumbags; that we're good, ethical people who make sure our clients get a fair trial. Then this clown comes out and shows his video, which says in so many words, we're all scumbags. I personally resent it, and if I see him in court, I'll tell him that."
For his part, Mr. Muessig considers the ad a success. He's not sure if he'd try another one any time soon, but he's grown his practice, which was his goal.
"If half the people who called me actually came in, I'd have enough clients to start a new criminal defense practice," he said. "It's almost more than I can handle."
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