Date: Thu, 27 Oct 94 11:53:37 PDT
Subject: Legal History
[Here's a little story about lawyers and advertising that predates C & S
and spamming (by about 13 years) ... -psl]
Forwarded-by: email@example.com (Henry Cate)
OBSERVER: The Legal Pitch
By RUSSELL BAKER
c. 1981 N.Y. Times News Service
NEW YORK - Since the Supreme Court granted lawyers the right to
advertise, a few of the more adventurous new law firms which cater to
middle-income Americans have been testing the television commercial as a
way of attracting mass business. So far their commercials have been duller
than a lecture on torts, which is a pity, because we middle-income folks
really need reasonably priced legal services and would flock to them in
droves if they were advertised persuasively.
To help the cause, I would like to suggest just a few of the many
irresistible commercials that might be produced on behalf of, say, the firm
of Burger & Warren.
The first would open with a shot of a jeweler cutting a large, expensive
diamond. We see the blow struck. The diamond shatters into ruin. The
jeweler rises in despair. Enter Robert Young, carrying a pot of Sanka
brand. "Bill, what's the matter?" he asks the jeweler.
"My doctor says it's too much caffeine," says Bill. "Why don't you
drink Sanka brand?" asks Robert Young. At this point a stern man in a
snap-brim hat enters, lays a heavy arm on Robert Young's shoulder and slaps
a legal document into his hand, at the same time saying: "Mr. Young, this
is a restraining order issued by Judge Hardy at the request of Burger &
Warren, attorneys for Bill."
"That's right, Mr. Young," says Bill. "I got so nervous about expecting
you to pop in here with Sanka brand every time I ruined a diamond that I
couldn't cut the mustard any more, much less the diamonds. Then I heard
about Burger & Warren's low-priced legal services."
He embraces the man in the snap-brim hat, who smiles into the camera,
saying, "Our restraining orders are available in a wide selection for as
little as $37.50."
"This doesn't mean I'll have to go to jail, does it?" asks Robert Young
with a chuckle.
"No, sir," says Bill, "but if you ever do, remember, Burger & Warren
can get you out with a habeas corpus for only $19.95."
"Fees slightly higher on weekends," says the snap-brim hat. Everybody
The second commercial opens with a middle-aged woman seated at her
living-room desk. She is frowning as though unable to balance her
checkbook. Off camera we hear a voice, obviously a strange voice which does
not belong in this house, probably an actor's voice which belongs on a
stage. The voice says, "Something wrong, Mrs. Murkin?" Mrs. Murkin looks
up at the camera. "Just not feeling myself today."
Whereupon the unseen man asks, with insinuating insolence,
At this moment we hear the voice of Officer O'Leary saying, "All right,
Mac, get those hands up." The camera turns to show us Officer O'Leary
holding an actor at gunpoint and, behind him, a man in a snap-brim hat.
"Take him down to headquarters and grill him, O'Leary," says the
snap-brim hat. "You'll probably find he's the same housebreaker who's been
terrorizing housewives down on Walnut Street by turning up in the laundry
room to ask why they use inferior detergents."
The camera cuts to Mrs. Murkin, speaking to the audience. "I didn't
know there was any way to stop actors from walking right into my living room
and asking me vulgar questions until somebody told me about Burger &
Warren," she says.
"That's right, Mrs. Murkin," says the man in the snap-brim hat, wrapping
the strong arm of the law around her shoulder. "For a consultation fee of
only $20, we were able to tell you that these embarrassments constituted
criminal breaking and entering by a professional actor."
"And now," says Mrs. Murkin, "I can look worried in my own living room
without ever having to discuss my bowels with strangers again, thanks to
Burger & Warren."
In the next commercial, an aged, arthritic housewife is seated behind
a table on which sits a heavy iron skillet. Off-camera an unseen man with
an actor's voice says, "Mrs. Klomp, I want you to try to lift that skillet
with your aged, arthritic old hand."
Mrs. Klomp starts to lift the skillet, then shrieks with pain, doubles
up in agony, drops the skillet on her foot and collapses on the floor.
"What's wrong?" cries the actor's voice. "You're just supposed to tell
me you couldn't pick up the pan until you got a dose of aspirin."
"That was before somebody told me about Burger & Warren," says Mrs.
Klomp, smiling in agony.
"That's right, Mrs. Klomp," says a man in a snap-brim hat, entering
left. "Thanks to Burger & Warren, you were able to learn that the sums to
be gained in court for pain and suffering far outweigh the fee for doing
aspirin commercials. How is your leg?"
"Feels broken in two places." "Congratulations, Mrs. Klomp," says the
man in the snap-brim hat. "You will never have to work again."
The actor's voice off camera says, "There's a name for this kind of
game." "And if you want to know what it is," says the snap-brim hat, "phone
Burger & Warren for an appointment."
© 1994 Peter Langston