Attorneys would rather be feared than loved?

A 2013 poll found that only 18% of Americans felt that lawyers contributed to society’s well-being, the least of the occupations surveyed. Many blame this sentiment on attorney advertising.

However, lawyer TV ads are supposed to increase the overall administration of justice as the US Supreme Court stated (see below).

This ad, for whatever else may be said, is epic. While I would never do it myself, I’m glad it was made. As catchy as it is, two minutes of Super Bowl advertising is costly and it may not bring in enough new business to justify its cost. I want to believe it was made for the love.

Some attorneys take a more abstract approach.

I think it’s safe to say that this ad would turn off people in general. But someone wanting an attorney to fight for her against a criminal charge would see it in a different light.

In Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), SCOTUS ruled that an outright ban on legal advertising was unconstitutional. The Court found that adverting informed the public, improved the administration of justice and need not have a negative effect on the professionalism of the bar.

Most attorney ads on television are for personal injury, medical malpractice and product liability actions where attorneys tend to make a good return on investment. (Otherwise, we may have never heard of a bladder sling or a vaginal mesh.)

More recently, Television commercials offer a steady stream of mesothelioma ads, many presenting themselves as support groups. But in the small print, these commercials are actually attorney ads leading the caller to call a firm and hopefully sign on as a client. Mesothelioma/asbestos ads have become so pervasive, that even web clicks (like Google AdWords) can go for $60 each or amazing, up to $900.

This is because each successful mesothelioma claim is worth about $1.5 to $2 million.

Recently, the plaintiffs’ bar has taken heat for much of the asbestos/mesothelioma litigation.  In In re Garlock Sealing Technologies, LLC (No. 10-31607), the bankruptcy judge blasted the plaintiff’s attorney for misleading the court and the jury about where the plaintiff had been exposed to asbestos. The plaintiff had been exposed to asbestos from many sources but presented to the court that only the sole defendant was to blame. The plaintiff was apparently going after each offender one at a time.

This kind of thing doesn't lend itself to good relations with the public at large. Commentary on the case condemns the poor ethics of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. But the case may be made that these attorneys are doing what it takes to get good results for their clients, even though it enriches their own bottom line. After all, isn't it an attorney’s role to be the bad guy when need be?

What ethical issues do you see in a commercial presenting itself as an information line for an injury when it's actually an attorney referral?