The billboard ad of North Carolina lawyer Larry Archie has drawn a lot of attention in the state and on legal ethics forums.
1. I was a little late seeing “Breaking Bad” ( I tend to avoid show with drug dealers as heroes) so I didn’t see the obvious connection between the popular AMC show’s cynical, unethical and effective slime-ball lawyer Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk, and last year’s jaw-dropping—but funny!—video ad for the services of Pittsburgh criminal lawyer Daniel Muessig.
2. This is why we ignore popular culture at our peril….and I think the legal profession needs to stop laughing and start worrying. People really do think Saul who is a criminal lawyer, is typical, and bar associations are doing very little to dissuade them. This is irresponsible, dangerous, and stupid. The profession has a duty to educate the public about how lawyers are supposed to act and why, and if it whiffs on that obligation (as it has for about the last hundred years) public respect for the justice system will continue to drop.
3. Like many of my generation, I aspired to be a lawyer after being inspired by heroic TV attorneys like Perry Mason and the father and son Prestons on Reginald Rose’s “The Defenders.” What kind of people are going to want to be lawyers in the wake of Saul Goodman, who is now the star of his own “sleazy lawyers are hilarious” AMC show, “Better Call Saul”?
4. Is Archie’s billboard unethical? The applicable rule on lawyer advertizing, North Carolina Rule 7.1, says:
Rule 7.1 Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services
(a) A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it:
(1) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;
(2) is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or
(3) compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.
5. The consensus seems to be that a bar prosecution based on 7.1 would fail. The argument for sanctions would be that the slogan encourages dishonesty, but the statement is literally true, and even educational.
6. Others argue, on the basis of candor and the virtues of telling those who need a criminal lawyer what they need to know, that this is an admirable and ethical ad, not to mention an effective one.
My view? It’s ethical. It’s effective advertising.
And it looks terrible.