If a New Yorker heard Danny "the heavy hitter" Cline were squaring off with Jan "she won't take no for an answer" Dils, they might think boxing, All-Star wrestling, or maybe even Ultimate Fighting.
But here in West Virginia, such a marquee would conjure up visions of a no-holds barred battle in the courtroom. And my, oh my, would it be a doozy.
"Your bills are piling up. You don't know where to turn. Get the money you deserve -- the careful help you need. Jan Dils, Attorney at Law. "She won't take nooooooo for an annnn--serrrrr..."
If you're another lawyer or even a judge, do you really want some of that?
Former State Bar President Elliot Hicks doesn't sound intimidated, but he is concerned about advertising jingles from lawyers such as Dils. The new leader of the West Virginia State Bar Lawyer Advertising Commission, version 2.0 (he chaired an identical group back in 1999), Hicks says the problem with her ads -- like the one we just recited off the top of our heads -- is that we can recite them off the tops of our heads.
"If the ads run too frequently, people get confused in their minds and consider it tasteless," Hicks said.
Get that? The man charged with reforming lawyer advertising in West Virginia thinks the problem is that we non Juris Doctors "consider" so many of these ads to be tasteless. That's opposed to their actually being so, in a "they equate lawyering to auto sales" sense.
Nothing against auto salesmen, but they're supposed to be in it for the money. And all state licensing aside, they aren't sworn officers of the court. Lawyers may not always live up to it, but in this country they're bestowed a special role, complete with special powers, like the ability to subpoena documents. In return, they're obliged to do what it takes to maintain public confidence in our justice system.
That means refraining from characterizing courtooms as having turnbuckles.
Color us pessimistic that Hicks will make progress this time around, as he isn't inclined to ask the operative question -- does the marketing of Cline, Dils and others like them improve West Virginia's justice system? Do they benefit the people, or do they just result in more frivolous lawsuits -- and contingency fees -- for the "officers of the court" themselves?
Practicing law is a privilege, not a right. And the problem with lawyer advertising in West Virginia isn't one of perception. It's reality.