Client incentives damage the profession – but advertising is essential.
I think what drives people most crazy about this new wave of personal injury ads is the people are all so very happy. Victims are seemingly able to brush aside the trauma of their injury, singing like they’re in a Broadway musical.
They’ll bother refuse collectors for a quick dance, chirp at postmen and accost former mediocre tennis players in the street for a big finale.
It’s all so jolly and upbeat – it almost makes you pine for that gruff moustachioed chap sitting in his office demanding to know if you’ve had an accident at work.
For the lucky majority, advertising is their only contact with the world of personal injury law, and it comes across like a pretty cushy one.
There was, among some people, therefore a degree of schadenfreude following news last week that Hampson Hughes had run foul of the Advertising Standards Authority.
Accompanying incongruous music (do injured people really think they’re ‘onto something good’?), the offending advertisement - which has not run since December - had pledged that consumers could get £2,000 up-front on accepted cases.
Only many of them wouldn’t. A quick look at the terms and conditions revealed the offer applied only to cases valued at £3,000 or more – leading to a ticking off from the Advertising Standards Authority.
The firm argued that the advertisement included on-screen text stating ‘Ts and Cs apply’ and consumers would understand the payment would be made only if cases were accepted.
So what does this say about advertising and incentives? My view on this has not changed: however legitimate the firm offering them, they damage the profession as a whole and give credence to the 'compensation culture’ myth.
But as for advertising, it’s unrealistic to expect law firms to be prevented from marketing themselves. Let’s be honest about this: until they walk through the door, clients and their cases are commodities. They are a money-making opportunity and the reason your firm is ultimately in existence.
By all means treat clients with the care and attention they deserve once they’re inside, but we shouldn’t pretend that law is less of a business than anything else. Lawyers have to sell themselves and their services to customers and advertising is the best way of doing it.
The odd ad that oversteps the mark shouldn’t mean lawyers are banned from advertising. It’s all very well preaching the value of ethics, but without a hard-headed attitude to business and marketing there’ll be no chances to actually practise it.
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter