There appears to be a war going on across this great state of Alabama, and it’s being waged on billboards and TV screens statewide. Of course I’m talking about the explosion of personal injury attorney ads.
I had the “opportunity” to watch some daytime TV recently and was blown away by the volume of advertising by lawyers. There were so many, the term “transvaginal mesh” rattled around in my head like a bad song for several days. I don’t know what TVM is, but it sounds about as sexy as an army boot and not like anything you want near any body parts you like.
I was impressed by the sheer number of ads, not necessarily their overall creativity or obnoxiousness. Most of the lawyers conducted themselves with professional seriousness, just kind of getting their names out there and letting folks know whether they really like to litigate about car accidents, TVM, industrial accidents, train accidents, asbestos inhalation, etc. Most of these guys and gals just seem to believe running their same ad over and over is effective. Can’t argue with that when the TVM cases are pouring in the door.
But some lawyers have more of a flair for the advertising business than others. They’ve made names for themselves with catchy phrases or a knack for being on air. Morris Bart out of New Orleans has done this forever with his “One Call, That’s All” rhyme that has dominated the Coast for years.
Probably my favorite local guy is David J. Maloney, whose commercials have moved from being a little annoying back when they started to actually being kind of fun to watch. He’s the “I will personally take your phone call” guy, and has managed to mix that catchphrase with humor on several occasions — enough that he’s won a couple of Nappies for best local commercial and best personal injury attorney. (He’s also a Lagniappe advertiser, in the interest of full disclosure, but I’ve never personally called him. Bad joke.)
There are some newcomers in the legal advertising world who have made a splash on TV as well. One of those is Mike “The Alabama Hammer” Slocum, whose ad featuring his child self decking a bully in the school hallway, then morphing into an excited adult has caused a few people with stunted senses of humor to whine about child abuse. Whether or not Slocum’s suit-wearing elementary school self knocking out a bully is child abuse isn’t really the question, as much as whether naming himself “The Alabama Hammer” is viewer abuse.
Slocum has another great commercial where he shoots at a deer with a $100 bill as its body as he’s going for “big bucks.” The deer’s head explodes and money flies out. All I can think is “Please, Hammer, don’t hurt ‘em.” (If you get that reference please return your genie pants to the back of your closet.)
A commercial in northern Alabama that raised a lot of eyebrows was from McCutcheon and Hamner and features a white guy doing the worst stereotypical “Chinaman” impression ever, complete with pointy hat and thick glasses. That one just blew up the bad taste meter. It’s also a head-scratcher as to why a Chinese guy speaking Pidgin English offers a quality endorsement of the firm’s skills. It comes off more like an impression a guy at the office does at the Christmas party once everyone is smashed, and somebody decided it would make a great commercial.
But regardless of what anyone may think, these over-the-top ads get attention and attorneys’ names out there at a time when the lawyer noise is roaring like a 747 engine. After all, they can’t hire you if they don’t know your name or nickname.
That’s certainly the motto of the most prolific advertising lawyer across the state and probably the region — Alexander Shunnarah. If you haven’t heard of Shunnarah, then you’ve obviously not been outside in the past five years. A Birmingham attorney, Shunnarah, I’m pretty sure, has purchased every single available billboard in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi and is currently looking into buying space on any pair of pants with a waist size larger than 48.
I kind of imagine selling Shunnarah a billboard going something like this:
“Alexander, this is Jim at the billboard company. We have a space available at ….”
“I’ll take it!”
“And another at …”
“I’ll take it!”
“I’ll take it!”
Driving down the interstate it feels like you could throw a rock from one Shunnarah billboard and hit another. I’m sure the owner of Lamar Advertising is probably ready to rename his oldest kid Shunnarah.
All of this seems to have prompted other personal injury lawyers to grab whatever billboards are left, so that a drive around town is like cruising through the legal section of the Yellow Pages.
It wasn’t all that long ago when attorneys were prohibited from advertising at all — doctors as well. Obviously those days are long gone. Now it seems if you want to make a living in personal injury law, you’d better be buying ads on “Judge Judy” and “Steve Harvey,” and slapping your smiling or frowning face on any billboard you’re lucky enough to find. Giving yourself a colorful nickname or persona can’t hurt.
Looking around the web, in other states where lawyer advertising is even less regulated, things have gotten really crazy. There are billboards featuring “The Magic Lawyer” holding a splayed deck of cards, a dreadlocked “attorney that rocks,” a smooth-headed “bald lawyer” and a guy who’s dubbed himself “The Gorilla,” just to name a few.
I’m not saying all this legal advertising mayhem is necessarily bad. After all, if your TVM is causing your heart valve to leak and making your asbestos cough worse, you’re going to need SOMEONE to represent you. And from what I’ve read, most of these firms settle about 95 percent of their cases, which I suppose is good if you’ve been in a wreck and need a check.
As the war for personal injury dollars continues to escalate, my hope is the more staid lawyers will get with the program and we’ll get more and more outlandish ads with fewer references to mesh, valves or other medical issues. I want to be entertained not frightened.
If all goes well, possibly one day disgraced former judge Herman Thomas will get his law license back and there he’ll be holding a paddle up on a billboard saying, “Need to paddle your insurance company? Call Herman ‘Spanky’ Thomas!”
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