While much of the discussion surrounding the parody video by Daniel Muessig was about how awesome/awful the video was, a snarky secondary issue arose from its content: Finally, someone understands what criminals want from their lawyer.
Mark Draughn, the WindyPundit, left this comment:
I do have to admire how unapologetic the ad is. I once offended a criminal defense lawyer when I offhandedly described his job as something like “Helping criminals get away with crimes.” I understand why he objected to that characterization, because that’s not quite what he’s selling, but if I were the client (and I more or less did the crime), then that’s pretty much what I’d be looking to buy.
At Walter Olson’s Overlawyered, a commenter named David Smith wrote:
I . . . . DON’T . . . BELIEVE . . . IT!!!
An honest lawyer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What I want to know is if lawyer marketing has an obligation as much to the profession as it does to the purest purpose of what advertising and marketing is for.
All of this raises a very real question, which is something good parody ought to do. We can wrap ourselves in the glorious duty of defending the rights of all, protecting the Constitution, but is that just a subterfuge for what we really do? Is that what the accused hire us to do? Is that what criminals want us to do?
There is a venn diagram developed by Matt Homan showing the difference between how lawyers present themselves to clients versus what clients really want to know about lawyers.
While the diagram is a bit generic, its point, like the snarky commentary about the video, is that there is a significant gap between our perception of what matters and the perception of our potential clientele. We can point to the Code of Professional Responsibility as an inhibiting factor, and explain why the rules, most notably the prohibition against deception, preclude our giving clients what they want to hear, but to what end?
The fact is that people inclined to commit crimes don’t want to hear sweet lawyer talk about rights and integrity. They tend to be very practical people. They want their lawyer to get them off, and they really don’t care much about how they do it. Bribe the judge? Cool. Bury evidence? No problem. Teach them the best lie to tell on the witness stand? Perfect. Use my friendship with the other side to get a special favor? Definitely. They want to win the case and get back to work.
And if we were to market to this group, we would offer to sell them what they want to buy. That’s how marketing works, as Vin says, for its purest purpose.
Over 30 years, I’ve come to learn quite a bit about how to commit crimes and get away with it. Over that time, more than a few people have asked me if I would be willing to impart that knowledge, for a very attractive fee. If a lawyer has a bit of larceny in his heart, there is a great deal of money to be made.
If money is the point, then why not market toward the true interests of the clients? And lest there be any doubt, good, hardworking criminals are great clients. They’re the ones with money to pay lawyers and who see us as a cost of doing business. In other words, they not only can pay, but they will pay. They are the ones who appreciate what we do.
And yet we don’t. The line may not be visible to everyone, may not be in our financial best interest and may, in fact, be contrary to good business judgment, but the single most important thing criminal defense lawyers possess is their integrity, which keeps them on the lawful side of the line rather than rushing to hug our clients and become a part of whatever world they belong to. We are criminal defense lawyers. We are not criminals. We defend people accused of crimes. We do not facilitate crimes. We support our clients’ defense. We do not support our clients’ crimes.
So no, the Muessig parody video is not “honest,” except if one is having some lulz at the cynical view of criminal defense lawyers. When a longtime prosecutor left his office and decided to come to the dark side, he asked me to have a drink with him and discuss what we really did. He believed that all the righteous pontificating in court concealed our playing Fagan back in the office. He thought we were this caricature that he had been fighting against for more than a decade.
When I explained that it wasn’t true, he looked crestfallen. There was something cool and sexy about being an outlaw, in his mind, and he was ready to shed his white shirt for wild stripes, sell his inside information and become consigliore to some crime syndicate. The reality didn’t come anywhere near his fantasy.
There are lawyers who play fast and loose, and they may get some good business for as long as it lasts. But they face two major obstacles. First, when the lawyer crosses the line, he becomes the criminal, and the system tends not to be kind to dirty lawyers. Second, as much as clients think they want their lawyers to play dirty, they also want to be able to trust their lawyer. Once a lawyer proves himself untrustworthy, the lawyer becomes just as much a potential liability as the guy trying to take over a dealer’s street corner. Liabilities get eliminated.
These aren’t issues for lawyers with integrity. But then, we can’t market ourselves as criminals or criminal facilitators, because we’re not, and that would be deceptive. Instead, we make do with less effective marketing and a much better night’s sleep. We can be proud of what we do, and how we do it, even if it’s not exactly what potential clients may want from us.