‘Space Aliens’ Take Over TN Supreme Court

by David Rumsey | March 19, 2013

Okay, we got a little “tabloid” with that headline. Little green men are not actually descending on the Tennessee Supreme Court. But images of “space aliens” and other sensational attention-getters are the targets of a court petition meant to further restrict the content of lawyer advertising in Tennessee.

As you can imagine, we at cj Advertising find this development worthy of an alarming headline.

And when Nashville’s CBS affiliate was looking for a rebuttal from a legal-advertising expert, cj’s Founder and CEO Arnie Malham stepped up and delivered a haymaker. Check out the full news feature here (Listen for Arnie beginning at 1:39).

Here’s the skinny.

The Tennessee Association for Justice (TAJ) has petitioned the state Supreme Court to enact stricter rules for legal advertising; specifically citing ads “which may not appear to be false or misleading on their face, but have tendencies that distract the viewer from what they are seeing.“ Such “tendencies” would include the use of attractive models and actors as well as unrealistic images like talking dogs, robots, and yes, space aliens.

While the proposed rules may seem benign, consider that Tennessee, like most states, already prohibits lawyers ads from:

  • saying anything misleading or false
  • comparing the services of other law firms
  • promising results.

So what’s our problem? Well, those three rules would actually disqualify pretty much every other kind of commercial you’ve ever seen. Try selling anything, whether it’s a car, a candy bar, or a diamond ring, without being able to say or imply any variation of the words “good,” “better,” “best,” or “great.” Trust us, it’s a hoot!

In our opinion, added restrictions would reduce lawyer ads to little more than business cards that make noise and move. And if you ban the use of actors, the only firms that could flourish would be those with lawyers or clients who look good on TV. Now is that the best way to choose a law firm?

Let us be clear. cj Advertising is not responsible for any of the ads described in the petition (though News Channel 5 would have you believe otherwise). Even so, we do not wish to disavow or criticize them in any way.

On the contrary, we run ads for 40+ clients in more than 70+ markets across the US and Canada. We know better than anyone, that when walking the creative tight-rope between bar compliance and brand differentiation, sometimes you have to stand on your head just to get noticed. And that’s all those ads in the petition are doing.

It’s not our cup of tea, but if showing a space alien helps a few people find legal representation that would be otherwise unavailable to them, we say “nanoo nanoo.” That’s Klingon for “no more bar restrictions, please.”

The cj Standard

Though we recognize that the TAJ’s petition is not an issue of compliance, we did want to take this opportunity to stress how seriously we take both the letter and spirit of the laws governing lawyer advertising.

At cj Advertising, staff members are expected to know the state bar rules for the clients they handle. On top of that, one of our agency’s owners, Jimmy Bewley, is also a practicing lawyer whose wisdom and experience provides us with a clear understanding of the dos and don’ts. And in the rare instances where Jimmy’s gray matter encounters a gray area, we seek legal opinions from outside counsel or request guidance from the pertinent state bar associations.

We are proud of our record of compliance and look forward to future collaboration with the state bar associations that have helped us keep our legal ads legal.