We have previously discussed the growing number of legal advertisements that degrade the profession with cheap pitches that would make a used car salesperson blush. That latest example (below) is from Pittsburgh attorney Daniel Muessig. The advertisement is clearly tongue-in-cheek but in the end I find it less than comical. Muessig promises to help felons get back to crime and proclaims that he “think like a criminal.” It fulfills the worst stereotypes of criminal defense lawyers as felons are shown committing crimes and saying “Thanks, Dan.” Muessig may have a skill for thinking like a criminal but he clearly has yet to master the talent of thinking like a lawyer.
The video below shows a big banner disclaiming the depiction of crimes as purely fictitious. This is due to the Pennsylvania bar rule that states “An advertisement or public communication shall not contain a portrayal of a client by a non-client; the re-enactment of any events or scenes; or, pictures or persons, which are not actual or authentic, without a disclosure that such depiction is a dramatization.”
Muessig, 31, just received his JD from the University of Pittsburgh Law School in 2012. He either was given no training on the professional demeanor and self-discipline or, more likely, blew off those classes.
Pennsylvania is one of the states that has abandoned efforts to police the propriety of advertisements and has seen a race to the bottom in such commercials. The comments to the rules state:
Questions of effectiveness and taste in advertising are matters of speculation and subjective judgment. Some jurisdictions have had extensive prohibitions against television and other forms of advertising, against advertising going beyond specified facts about a lawyer, or against ‘‘undignified’’ advertising. Television, the Internet, and other forms of electronic communication are now among the most powerful media for getting information to the public, particularly persons of low and moderate income; prohibiting television, Internet, and other forms of electronic advertising, therefore, would impede the flow of information about legal services to many sectors of the public. Limiting the information that may be advertised has a similar effect and assumes that the bar can accurately forecast the kind of information that the public would regard as relevant.
Muessig, 32, is clearly using humor but it does not help the profession to have a lawyer parading on television saying: “Consequences. They sure suck, don’t they? America was built on freedom, not on a bunch of people with more money than you telling you what you can and can’t do with all their stupid laws. Laws are arbitrary.” He assures the viewers “Trust me, I may have a law degree, but I think like a criminal. Street knowledge.”
While the advertisement is not as creepy and self-aggrandizing as the one for Jamie Casino in the Superbowl, it seems to fulfill a Stephen Colbert fantasy for Muessig. Muessig and Casino are the very reason why bar members have fought to keep regulation of advertisements. There remain a certain percentage of lawyers without any sense of professionalism or discipline who think little of the impact of their conduct on the bar. The problem is that such regulations raise difficult free speech questions and highly subjective judgments.
Muessig insists that “[u]ltimately my goal is the highest aim of the bar, which is to help people. I understand that the way I did it is unconventional, but I have helped a lot of people in the brief amount of time I have been a criminal defense attorney.” I cannot speak for his motivation but his means is hardly the “highest.” He seeks clients by treating criminal defendants as habitual criminals, criminal defense lawyers as heartless profiteers, and the law as a vicious joke on victims. That is quite an accomplishment for a “brief amount of time” as a lawyer. It is an inauspicious start for a lawyer and must be an embarrassment to the Pittsburgh law school. This is the type of thing that would be funny as a law school gag but as an advertisement the humor fades with the degrading image of lawyers.
We have recently seen a criminal defense attorney is being opposed in a Senate confirmation hearing because he represented a notorious criminal. In my work as a criminal defense attorney for over two decades, I have seen many talented lawyers becoming prosecutors or civil litigators to avoid the backlash of representing accused criminals. Muessig fuels that image with this advertisement and undermines better lawyers who are doing serious — and often unpopular — work. With only one year as a lawyer, that is a rather ignoble distinction for Mr. Muessig.