You Won An Award, But It Is Going To Cost You – Use of Paid Lawyer Awards and TV to Inflate Legal CredentialsPosted 02 Apr 2017 by John Phillips
Recently, I was informed that I was selected by Southwest Airlines as one of the top six trial lawyers in the country and would be featured in Spirit, its magazine, on every plane they have. We’d be featured in a “full-page, four color ad” with a “photograph and contact information” for our firm, as one of the “Top Rated Personal Injury Lawyers in America.” Even better, only one attorney or firm from each market would be selected and featured- and we were it! They ended the email saying, “Hope to have you on board!” I smiled knowing hard work had been rewarded.
So, I guess they were saying my firm and I were one of the “entrepreneurs, journeymen, mavericks and pioneers who believe the American Dream doesn’t just happen–it’s something you have to work for.” YES!
As a lawyer who is required to travel a good bit, I was familiar with Southwest’s “best of” ads. I had probably eaten at some of its best steakhouses and perused some of its best surgeons. As this was not my first rodeo, I wondered what the catch was- because there always is a catch. ALWAYS. The Catch was not included in the initial take-off instructions.
Back to that story in a second. It’s not just awards. Television appearances seem to bring “acclaim,” too.
The Balancing Act on the Lifetime Network
A few years ago, I asked by a national television producer to do an interview segment called, “How to Select an Attorney” to air on its show, The Balancing Act on the Lifetime Network. I was invited to pre-interview with an executive producer, which went really well. At the end of the recruitment process, I learned of the catch. The Balancing Act was “responsible for covering all additional production, media, marketing and promotional expenses associated with our program.” As such, it passed these costs on to the guests and the pre-production/scheduling fee was $11,700.00. But I was not to worry, as the sum would give me rights to use the segment and Lifetime logos. It was non-negotiable. Good thing, because I didn’t negotiate. My ethics were not such a balancing act.
The Edge with Terry Bradshaw
I also once got a call from Terry Bradshaw’s team. Because of Courts & Sports, our firm’s interest in sports law and my brief career as an agent, “The Edge with Terry Bradshaw” considered us “for a five (5) minute segment on topics, trends and issues related to “Professional Services for Maximizing Player Potential” in our “Gaining a Competitive Edge” series.” I spoke with Pete Eckhart and the Senior Producer at length about what we could offer his viewers. At the last second, I was told there would be a “scheduling fee” of $19,800. I passed. Pun intended. They have tried to pull the same bait and switch to a town- Dumfries, Virginia. And another show using Terry Bradshaw’s name, Today in America, was documented doing the same thing.
No, not Newsweek!?!
We also got the call from Newsweek. At least Newsweek discloses its site is an “Sponsor Infosite,” but otherwise doesn’t disclose that its “BEST LAWYERS” are best and paying their bill. The cost? “$2,950 (normally priced at $7,975) – includes 4 week flight time and guaranteed 500,000 unique visitors.” But wait, there’s more… “All participants will receive a complimentary Newsweek.Com promotional emblem.” It is currently featuring criminal defense lawyers – http://www.newsweek.com/14-best-criminal-defense-attorneys.
To see their full promotional package, click here- Personalnjury_ New.
Back to Southwest / Spirit Magazine
Back to Southwest. Welcome aboard? Hardly. Southwest wanted $3000 per month with a minimum of a six month commitment to be featured as one of its “top rated civil trial attorneys.” It (like all of these) was simply an advertisement hidden as an award. Five of six spots had been taken and the sales pressure was on. They even provided the graphic with me as the missing piece. The temptation was such that it honestly made me think about it. In fact, I waited so long that the spot filled up with someone else. But Spirit Magazine had “good news and bad news.” Southwest decided to expand its listing to feature six more firms and I was to get the feature spot. DING! No, thanks. That is not a cabin I want to move about- pay for play acclaim.
Million Dollar Advocates Forum
It’s pretty common in the business. For trial lawyers, there is a group called the million dollar advocates forum. For a membership fee of $1200, any lawyer (with a million dollar verdict or settlement) can become a lifetime member, use its logo and impress clients with its special credential, as “fewer than 1% of U.S. lawyers are members.” You see its coin logo all over- even in some prestigious firms. The address of the forum is a P.O. Box in California, undoubtedly regularly receiving checks from lawyers who want to stand out and promote their million dollar verdict(s). We bought in before we knew better on this one. However, I am pretty sure my 2 year old will design a logo you can use for $200 if you are so inclined and foolhardy- “bestest lawyer ever.” BOOM! College paid.
Local Pay-to-Play Shows
It’s not just a national thing. There are local “talk” shows that do it, too. In Jacksonville, businesses pay as little as $500 and as much as $2500 for a 5 minute segment. You wouldn’t even know in most cases. First Coast Living does a good job making its businesses feel like actual stories. Our crazy friend, “Doc Tony” makes it seem seamless:
I have been on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, MSNBC and featured on HLN, even on the BBC, and never paid a dime. Rolling Stone has covered a case, putting a photo of me and my clients in their magazine without a catch. We have won awards without having to place an ad or prepay a fee. In fact, Dr. Phil’s production staff once called to send us a client if we agreed to be on the show. We didn’t take the case.
The magic? I work 18 hours a day and 7 days a week. It comes from raw passion and compassion. Not all acclaim is “pay for play.” As my dad always said, “You want it, go work for it.” When we have a story to tell that tells a bigger story, we let our media contacts know. If a company wants to feature us or give us an award, we make sure it comes without ties.
I can’t say that I fault any lawyers who choose this route. We all are looking for a way to stand out. If anything, I just wanted to let people know that that steak might not actually be the greatest, that item or service they are pitching on television might just have some “promotional consideration” behind it- even when it comes to lawyers.
If you want to be on TV or be written about, start local and pitch an interesting idea or case (with the client’s permission). Work your way up. Or pay for it and hope your clients don’t see this post. It’s up to you.
Be careful. Choose wisely.