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Does personal injury lawyer advertising on television really work?

February 6, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

Studies show how automobile accident victims respond to legal TV advertising

Continuing on my take of the good and the bad of lawyer advertising, I last wrote about how legal advertising often has a negative effect on people with lower incomes finding the very best injury attorneys. Today, I’m going to write about personal injury lawyer commercials on TV.

We’ve all seen them. They are literally everywhere in Metro Detroit.

We’ve all been annoyed by many of these commercials.

But do they really work?

There are more than 60,000 lawyers in Michigan, and many thousands of these are personal injury lawyers. Of these several thousand, there are about 10 law firms in Metro Detroit who advertise on television.

Flick on your TV mid-morning or early afternoon and you will be bombarded with commercials for various accident attorneys and Social Security Disability lawyers.

What is so interesting is that while there are many television legal advertisers in Detroit, and across the nation these days, it seems that there is a very large “bandwagon effect” of some injury lawyers deciding on “doing television” because they see other lawyers doing it. This way of reaching automobile accident victims is very expensive. There is actually very little hard data on whether it actually works once you get beyond the two or three “800lb gorilla,” legal advertisers who dominate each television market by sheer spend amounts.

Our own law firm made the decision not to do television advertising, or for that matter most forms of advertising to the public. There are a few very good law firms that do engage in television advertising, but they are the exception to the rule. Our law firm created a business model of keeping our case numbers lower for each attorney so we could spend more time on client communication and on maximizing settlement results. The big problem with television advertising is that it requires the caseloads of individual attorneys to be very high because the costs of advertising are so high. That means these attorneys have far less time to work up and maximize case values. It also can sometimes mean very poor communication. Finally, this means that most law firms that advertise on television have a business model akin to a “settlement mill” so they can move larger numbers of cases faster so they can continue to pay for expensive television advertising.

In contrast, most of our cases are actually referred to us by other Michigan lawyers based upon our legal reputation. With the exception of this auto lawyers blog which I started several years ago so I could write on issues of interest to me in the field of Michigan’s auto No Fault law and auto accident tips and strategy, our law firm has chosen a very different route from everyone else. As long as our law firm keeps recovering the top reported auto accident verdicts and settlements in Michigan every year, this strategy will continue to work for us.

But what about the effectiveness of television advertising for personal injury attorneys?

There are some interesting studies on the effectiveness of personal injury television advertising. Some of this research also sheds a bit of light on the psychology behind it and why these talking heads are so intent on reaching you while you’re at home.

Television advertising submissions by law firms around the country to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Advertising’s annual awards program for “Dignity in Lawyer Advertising” may offer some insight (1992-1994). About 139 commercials were evaluated for the use of specific purchase criteria and supporting cues in the advertisements.

Knowledge was consistently the most important criterion of service to consumers, 67% of who favored it as top on the list. As a parallel, knowledge was the most frequent cue in the commercials, including any mention of attorneys’ display of skills, competence and experience. In addition, 61% of consumers favored an attorney showing interest about a consumer’s problem or caring about the accident victim. Using knowledge as a top criterion coincided with findings in other studies that consumers are most interested in the knowledge and skills of their lawyers when choosing who to hire.

The study also stated that knowledge can be addressed by accident attorneys with cues, such as presenting the specialty of the law firm; depicting a law firm; offering a free consultation and establishing years in existence.

Another 2001 academic study went so far as to pinpoint the days and times auto accident legal inquiries are likely to surface from television commercials. Since an analysis on auto accident statistics by state and county indicated up to 60% of all injury-producing accidents occur between Friday and Sunday, and because soft tissue damage caused by car crashes can represent up to two-thirds of all injuries (with those injuries producing symptoms between 24 and 72 hours), the best availability for marketing to an audience should be Monday morning through Wednesday afternoon, the study surmised.

Further, it was found that women comprise up to 70% of the initial callers, regardless of who is injured; and those with children are the predominant daytime television viewers. So women were found most likely to respond to legal advertisements immediately in the morning, but then would delay calling during the afternoon – as they were said to be waiting for their favorite show to conclude. (Have you Been Injured? The Current State of Personal Injury Lawyers’ Advertising. Journal of Popular Culture)

But just because certain factors of lawyer commercials on television resonate with different demographics during certain times, doesn’t mean it’s a fool proof way of advertising.

Attorney referrals from friends was found to outweigh lawyer commercials on TV

Regardless, 70% of consumer respondents in a 2014 study stated that while consumers are interested in lower prices, they generally believe the reputation of the attorney is more important, and therefore, are more likely to review information received from friends about attorneys’ services as more reliable than legal advertising, including TV commercials. (An Empirical Analysis of the Public’s Attitude Toward Legal Services Advertising. Services Marketing Quarterly)

In addition, a pilot study to measure the impact of word of mouth and television advertising by lawyers found that television advertising actually had a negative impact on the lawyer using the medium.

Our advice on choosing the best lawyer to help you has always been this: Please, don’t choose your lawyer solely based on attorney advertising, especially from those who only run television commercials. As I’ve discussed in many of the previous blog posts of this series, many of these lawyers and law firms are actually the least qualified to help you reach an excellent result that can protect you and your family. These law firms rely on you picking up the phone in response to a commercial, not carefully choosing the best-qualified lawyer to help you with your case.

It’s important to take time to research your attorney to make sure he or she truly cares and has the best credentials to protect you. For more information on choosing the best lawyer to help you, you can take a look at my series on how to find the most qualified lawyer.

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