No Place for Nazis in Lawyer Pitch (Update x 3)

Larry Bodine is a legal marketing guru, and is not one to shy away from straight talk.  This is a quality I greatly admire in others, as I see wiggly, meaningless rhetoric as a waste of my time.  I really hate it when my time is wasted.  If you’ve got something to say, then just say it.  And if you don’t, then why are you writing anything in the first place?

But the downside of being unafraid to state one’s views is that, every once in a while, a position comes to light that is, well, truly disturbing, perhaps even bordering on sick.  Such is Larry’s view in this post, entitled The Best Elevator Pitch Ever.

I was conducting business development training at Chicago-area law firm when the focus turned to “30-second commercials” or “elevator pitches.”  Each lawyer in the session was assigned to write their own, following guidelines I outlined.

The silver-haired senior-most litigator at the firm came up with the BEST elevator pitch ever.  The senior partner said, “when I step onto elevator at the top floor, I size up the other person to see if he is a business man.  I know they don’t like lawyers.”

“When they ask me, ‘what do you do for a living?’ I answer I’m a Nazi medical researcher.”

The businessman will react with shock.  “Then I say, ‘I was kidding. I just said that because I’m a lawyer.”

This always gets a laugh from the businessman.

“Then I say I help businessmen in court.”

The best?  No.  Not the best.  Not even acceptable.  If someone were to say this to me in an elevator, my initial reaction would be to loudly exclaim a select epithet and tell the other person that they should get far away from me immediately.

I enjoy lawyer jokes, though many of my overly-serious brethren find them offensive.  I don’t find anything funny about the Nazis, and Nazi medical researchers are particularly unfunny.  I understand the comparison between lawyer and Nazi, thus making the hated lawyer less evil by comparison.  The use of Nazis is still unacceptable, offensive and as close to a good reason to strike someone as one will find in an elevator.

That Larry has gone so far out on a limb to proclaim this is the best, not merely good, but the best, elevator pitch he’s ever heard is shocking.  Even if one has a particularly warped sense of humor, or high tolerance for disgusting references, this one should have given Larry pause.  A really long pause.  For some reason, Larry decided to lay it on the line and post his love for this pitch.

I don’t pitch in elevators.  In fact, I have made it lifelong habit not to speak in elevators, since you never know who’s in there with you.  But if I ever was inclined to speak in an elevator, and if that speech was intended as a “pitch”, it would not involve Nazis.

There are about a million alternate ways for this elevator pitcher to have made his point without invoking the Nazis.  My advice would be to find a different way.  As for Larry, I am very sorry that this is the sort of thing that you find to be the “best”.   In case I haven’t been clear, I do not.  I find it deeply disturbing on every level.

Update 1:  The comments at Larry Bodine’s blog have been less than supportive of this particular post.  One might think that Larry would reconsider.  One would be wrong.  In fact, Larry posted this follow-up:

11/16/08: Thanks for all the comments on this post. No one could ever say that your acting as the Police of Political Correctness. Besides, you can’t have enough things that are PC anyway. Nobody would waste their turning a quick joke into a highly-charged epithet. 

People email me privately that the commentors have no sense of humor, or are pursuing an agenda. Golly, would someone do that? I like to believe that kind of things doesn’t go on.

So keep those comments coming. Presumably you’ll manage to fit them in between protest marches against “The Producers” outside Mel Brook’s house and the orchestrated boycott of reruns of Hogan’s Heroes.

I’m fairly certain that if I found myself in this hole, I would stop digging.  More to the point, I wouldn’t ridicule people who didn’t agree with Larry’s sense of humor in this instance.  But then, Larry’s the marketing guru.

Update 2:  It would appear that Larry has decided to stop digging, and the “best elevator pitch ever” post is now gone.  Forever?

H/T Geeklawyer via twitter

Update 3: Larry has removed the original post and apologized for it.

I sincerely apologize for the crude and offensive “Elevator Pitch” post I put online last week.  In the clear light of morning, it is clear that it was anti-Semitic and repellent.  I want to thank all the people who commented and called me about it; I listened and took what you said to heart.

I have deleted the post.  It was a mistake to repeat a crude joke that I heard in rural Illinois, and I should have known better. It was a worse mistake to say it was the “best” of its kind, when actually it was hideous.

I appreciate Larry’s recognition of the error, and am happy that this issue has now been put to rest.  I hope those few commenters, here and elsewhere, who failed to comprehend why this reflected exceptionally bad judgment will now recognize their error as well.

10 comments on “No Place for Nazis in Lawyer Pitch (Update x 3)

  1. Rick Horowitz

    Well, maybe I’m just an insensitive Jewboy. I find the joke kind of stupid, or “lame,” but it seems to me that people too often overreact to misguided attempts at humor.

    There may be a reason to want to EDUCATE the speaker about his choice of analogues, but to assume he’s “sick”?

    I think that goes a little far.

  2. Dan Hull

    This is not the Larry Bodine most people know or sense when they meet him. I’d call the pitch a gargantuan “whoops”, and an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment, and give him a pass. He’s much more and better than that.

  3. Rich Klein

    I agree that this is not the Larry Bodine many of us know and respect. And until he admits it is wrong to evoke Nazi imagery as part of a joke or an elevator pitch, I will continue to remind him and others in the legal marketing community that he crossed a line that is unacceptable.

  4. Geeklawyer

    I’m not Jewish (though I wear false Payot at the weekend) so I lack authority but, frankly, my response is ‘meh’.

    Bad taste? kiiiindaaaa, but mostly bad judgment. It’s risque, and like any risque joke you only make it if understand the audience; otherwise it’s not so much vulgar as professionally incompetent.

    For the right audience it’s a good elevator pitch: they laugh, you’re good people you get the punter. Done deal.

    Morals? Yea that’s important and you don’t say something you think immoral.

    And that’s where I think the disagreement is. I’m not sure ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ sayers will ever agree on this as it is about values, attitudes and personality more than marketing strategy. Me? I’d laugh. You? You’d throw a punch. And that difference is the only reason it shouldn’t be done.

    My view is that bad taste humour really is often the funniest, but who finds what funny can’t be predicted so sometine you just gotta take a risk.

  5. SHG

    The idea of an elevator pitch is that one is pitching to someone you don’t know.  So, not knowing this someone, the pitch selected is this?  Bad judgment.

    Then, one decides to post about “the best elevator pitch ever,” and this is it?  Bad judgment again.

    There are many things that are said “within the right crowd” that can be funny that one wouldn’t say to people you don’t know, because you wouldn’t know whether they were the “right crowd.”  This is most definitely one of those things that you wouldn’t say.  And you wouldn’t pick to promote that others say.  And is unlikely that you would tell people you don’t know that it reflects your sense of humor.

    Taking risks is one thing.  Committing suicide is another.  What are the chances that you happen to be in an elevator with one of the few other people on the planet who really enjoys a good Nazi joke?

    Bad judgment.

  6. Geeklawyer

    I guess it depends where the elevator is, which is where the ‘know your audience’ point comes in. At a conference where you’ve spoken mingled and eaten the salmon sandwiches together, maybe it isn’t a big risk. Otherwise? yea, you’re right: a dumb unsophisticated move.

  7. Mike

    “The idea of an elevator pitch is that one is pitching to someone you don’t know. So, not knowing this someone, the pitch selected is this? Bad judgment.”

    That’d be an empirical question. Just because it offends you and a few others doesn’t mean it’s not a great ice breaker.

    In fact, the man said that: “This always gets a laugh from the businessman..”

    So it if gets a laugh and does lead to business generation, then how is the joke a bad business judgment?

    It might be offensive, and there are moral points to make. You could say, “Even if it does lead to leads, it’s offensive and not the right way to get leads.” That’s a strong claim. But that’s a much different from saying that the joke is a bad business judgment.

    In some parts of the country, racist jokes are great ice breakers – even among lawyers and business people. That doesn’t mean I’ll use them. But just because using them might be in bad taste doesn’t mean that making them involves bad business judgment.

  8. J-dog

    The issue isn’t whether or not it is effective, but whether or not it’s just plain wrong.

    But, hey, if it leads to more sales, it can’t be bad judgment to do, can it?

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