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November 19, 2006

For Solos, YouTube is Marketing Genius

Connecticut Law Tribune - October 30, 2006

Your Internet presence just got more exciting. Imagine, potential clients can click on your web site and be linked to your personal video introducing them to your services, philosophies and mission, all for free? Imagine your own infomercial without the cost of running it on television, more targeted to your potential client base and all available for just the cost of creating it?

YouTube.com (recently purchased by the geniuses at Google for $1.65 billion, copyright infringement issues and all) offers this free service by allowing you to upload your video to its web site. You can link to the YouTube site through your own site, permitting you an "in person" introduction to potential clients.

One very ingenious young lawyer out of California did just that to give herself a competitive edge. Allison Margolin, a newly minted Harvard Law School graduate, who concentrates in criminal law, is very passionate about the decriminalization of marijuana. Her video highlights not just her criminal practice, but has testimonials of her and a client on the courthouse steps. The video allows her to showcase her mission through a medium her client base would most likely use.

Now, this might not be for everyone, but YouTube lets you take the concept of an electronic brochure, your web site, to a whole new level. When I did a YouTube search of lawyer videos, I found 81; at least 10 were from one law firm, 30-second spots each highlighting a particular practice area within the law firm. Others were amateur videos mocking "late night cheesy lawyers." The upshot is, this is virgin territory for clever marketers.

Whether this type of advertising comports with the ethics rules in California is between Attorney Margolin and the California Grievance Committee. However, based upon the proposed new rules in New York (1200-5-a), Attorney Margolin would be in violation for: (1) having a current client give a testimonial; and (2) having it done in front of the courtroom he is about to enter. That's a real shame. By going to http://youtube.com and searching for "Allison Margolin," you can decide for yourself if her advertisement is misleading to the public, and whether or not the legal profession's image suffers indignities.

The wonderful benefit of an Internet video is it can be as long as you would like and plays for free on the computer for each individual who specifically goes to your web site to do some preliminary research on you. Therefore, with each hit to your web site, you are getting the opportunity to present your own infomercial over and over again. This laser-focused advertising is powerful and cost effective.

Getting this type of targeted advertising for minimal investment is an amazing opportunity for the entrepreneur who is smart enough to grab the horns of this bull and ride it until the "legal advertising police" come with sirens blaring. And you know they are coming. The right to advertise is to the American Bar Association what the right to have an abortion is to the Republicans. It's a hot button issue that remains very divisive.

Given all the fuss recently about lawyer advertising, Internet communications, pop-ups and now blogs, video advertising like YouTube will certainly raise more than a few paternalistic graying eyebrows. But why? If it is a commercial like any other commercial, should it matter where it is played? As long as it passes muster like regular TV and radio "commercials," it shouldn't.

We've got to stop hog-tying every lawyer when it comes to competitive and creative presentation of their skills and philosophies under the ever-broadening (some would say suffocating) umbrella of public protection. If the judiciary and anti-lawyer advertising crusaders really want to protect the public, make them the gatekeepers of pharmaceutical advertising. With their zealousness I may, once again, be able to watch the evening news without 20 commercials encouraging me to become a prescription drug addict. •

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2006) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.

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