How to Choose a Personal Injury Lawyer For Beginners: Firehosed by Personal Injury TV Advertising

By Daniel Amos

Do you ever feel like you are being firehosed by TV commercials from personal injury lawyers?

This is the third in a series of articles about the many different ways you can find a personal injury lawyer in California.

My first article looked at the difference between finding your lawyer through a California State Bar Certified Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) vs. ending up with a lawyer from a “Lead Generation” business. You can find that article here: Higher Legal vs. AllLaw.com.

My second article compared getting your personal injury lawyer referral from a certified LRS vs. finding a lawyer in “an online marketplace for legal services” which you can read here: LRS or Avvo.com

In this article, I am going to talk about lawyer advertising, its history, and what it looks like today - including whether it is a helpful, or an unhelpful way for you to find your personal injury lawyer.

Who is protecting you from deceptive ads?

The California State Bar, which is the entity that administers the bar exam and licenses us lawyers, recently sent an email to all California lawyers about the New State Bar 5-year Strategic Plan to “Protect the Public”. One of its stated goals is to provide lawyers “with education, resources, and support that can help them practice ethically and competently and avoid complaints”.

My initial thought was it might be a better idea to provide the public “with information that will steer them away from lousy lawyers” and help them find the great lawyers who provide higher ethics and higher standards.

In other words, have you ever watched some of these personal injury lawyer commercials on TV and asked yourself why doesn't the State Bar do something about the horrible lawyer advertising that we can’t seem to get away from.

That's supposed to be one of the missions of the State Bar Certified Lawyer Referral Service program (LRS), but as a lawyer since 1985 and the owner of an LRS since 2009, my own experience has been just the opposite and the State Bar hasn’t been very helpful in that regard. [more coming on this in a future blog post]

There is an increasing number of TV ads by personal injury lawyers and as an LRS, Higher Legal will be reporting on them and helping the public by providing transparency and analysis. Look for this in our future blog posts and Higher Legal YouTube episodes.

Can you trust TV lawyer advertising?

There was a great piece recently on CBS Sunday Morning about lawyer advertising called, “How lawyers’ TV ads became a billion-dollar industry”. You should take a look at it. As someone who started practicing personal injury law in 1985, basically before the internet existed, and well before lawyer advertising was a big thing in California, it was an enlightening and funny piece to see how ridiculous lawyer advertising has become. It talks about the history of lawyer advertising and shows some of the most ridiculous ads that have aired on TV.

But here’s the thing: These ads seem to work. To my surprise, a lot of people will hire a personal injury lawyer because the lawyer screams at the top of their lungs in an absurd TV ad, or they show animated lions vomiting money, or exhibit some other ridiculous antics.

The question I have is: Do these outrageous personal injury TV ads help you find the best lawyers or the worst lawyers in town?

Lawyer advertising started in 1977 with the U.S. Supreme Court case Bates vs. State Bar of Arizona. Two lawyers in Arizona placed an ad in the Arizona Republic newspaper for the purpose of fighting a law that said they were prohibited from advertising. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which held that a ban on lawyer advertising violated the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment.

It's ironic that the “free speech” they were talking about isn’t really “free” at all, in fact it has become a billion-dollar business!

The CBS story highlighted a lawyer who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising. But overall, TV advertising is a billion-dollar industry, and as mentioned in my prior posts, the full legal advertising metaverse has become a zillion-dollar conglomerate.

So how does this affect you?

We are all subject to advertising. We see ads all day. They affect how we act. They tell us a story that makes us behave in ways that often don’t seem logical. For example, why do we purchase a pair of jeans that have a certain 'label' on them when we can buy an almost identical pair for half the price that doesn’t have that label? It’s all about the psychology of behavior, and for some reason, it seems to work well in the personal injury advertising business.

You are an individual, not a cookie-cutter

Beware of the personal injury lawyers on TV. That's what the research shows.

There is a long and very interesting article entitled Run-of-the-Mill-Justice in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics that discusses the practice of TV advertising by personal injury lawyers. You might be familiar with a term used to describe law firms that play lots of TV commercials, they're called “settlement mills”. At my old law firm we called the lawyers at those firms “Pioneers” because we jokingly said they were “early settlers!”

In other words, these firms have a reputation for spending a lot of money on TV commercials to get you to sign up with them, but then they do very little work on your case and they often settle your case for much less money than it is worth. They work on high volume and they provide very little personal attention to you or to your case. The Georgetown article traces this problem back to the start of lawyer advertising I mentioned above:


“Because advertising is indeed ill-suited to “individualized” law practice, some entrepreneurial personal injury lawyers, rather than foregoing advertising’s benefit, have turned what was once a prototypical individualized service into a routine or “standardizable” one, characterized by high volumes and cookie-cutter assembly-line procedures. Put simply: Because advertising provides little benefit to conventional personal injury practices, some personal injury practices have become unconventional. Tracing their lineage back to the landmark Bates decision, settlement mills stand as a monument to the law of unintended consequences.”
“Over the past three decades, no development in the legal services industry has been more widely observed and less carefully scrutinized than the emergence of firms I call “settlement mills”—high-volume personal injury law practices that aggressively advertise and mass produce the resolution of claims, typically with little client interaction and without initiating lawsuits, much less taking claims to trial. Settlement mills process tens of thousands of claims each year. Their ads are fixtures on late-night television and big-city billboards. But their operations have been largely ignored by the academic literature, leaving a sizable gap in what is known about the delivery of contemporary legal services in the United States.”

What are you looking for in a personal injury lawyer?

QUESTION: Do you want to be one of the thousands of clients at a "settlement mill" law firm where your case may never be handled by a lawyer and they won’t have any idea who you are?

Or, do you want to hire a personal injury lawyer who you have met, who knows your name, and who will personally work on your case?

My guess is you want a lawyer who knows your name and knows your case!

So what are the attributes you should look for when you are trying to find a personal injury lawyer in California who is the right fit for your case? My guess is you wouldn't hire a personal injury lawyer just because they are endorsed by a professional sports team. Instead, you might look at these attributes when you select your personal injury lawyer:

Communication Skills: Do you want a lawyer who screams and blows up monsters? Or do you want a lawyer who updates you frequently about your case? And do you prefer to communicate with your lawyer by phone, or email, or text, or some other way? These are important things to know before you hire your lawyer so you will have the best experience possible.

Experience: How much jury trial experience is a question I often tell Higher Legal clients to ask any personal injury lawyer they are interviewing. The TV lawyers have often never been in front of a jury, or sometimes have never been to court at all. What type of personal injury cases does your lawyer have the most experience in? This is also important to know. If you have an elder abuse case and your lawyer only handles car accident cases, you probably have the wrong personal injury lawyer. Experience, and more importantly, experience in the right area of personal injury law is very important to achieving a great outcome in your case.

Size Matters: Will you work better with a large firm, a small group, or a solo practitioner? If you have a large case, will your personal injury lawyer have the time, staff and financial resources to go up against the law firm on the other side of your case? If you have a small case, will your case be lost in the shuffle of a big firm and be handed down to an associate, paralegal or clerk and not be worked on by an experienced personal injury lawyer? There are lots of things to consider when you decide where you find your personal injury lawyer.

My hope is to provide you with information that helps you find the best method to find your personal injury lawyer. My hope is to also help you get the best deal so that you will save money on the attorney fees you are charged by your personal injury lawyer.

If I can help you find an experienced personal injury lawyer who understands how to do this, please let me know. Tell Me About Your Case

If you need a referral to a great personal injury lawyer, send me a message through the Higher Legal website and I will get right back to you. Higher Legal has been helping people find the best personal injury lawyers since 2009. If you want to leave me a phone message, you can call me at 1-800-210-2104. Keep in mind I use some of the phone messages on the Higher Legal YouTube channel. If you want me to get right back to you, the best and the fastest way to reach me and get a response is through a message on the Higher Legal website.

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Thanks again for reading!

Daniel AmosAttorney since 1985Founder of Higher Legal