Legally Speaking: Here's My Card

John G. Browning Mar. 18, 2010, 9:00am

My law firm recently announced that we would be receiving new business cards. I was somewhat surprised at the excitement this news generated among some of my colleagues, as they speculated about everything from the font to the card stock to whether or not color would be used.

The debate was oddly reminiscent of the scene from the movie "American Psycho," in which the investment banker/serial killer played by Christian Bale and his fellow Wall Street cronies engage in a game of one-upmanship over who has the most impressive, most expensive business card.

The buzz over the new cards underscored for me how seriously lawyers take this issue; after all, the business card is literally our calling card to the rest of the community and sometimes the first impression prospective clients will get.

Because of this, some lawyers engage in a little more creativity than others when it comes to their business cards. For example, Toledo, Ohio, attorney Paul C. Redrup uses his unique card to highlight his criminal defense practice. The card is encased in an outer covering with a cutout giving it the look of jail cell bars, and the card itself depicts the silhouette of a person.

The card slides out, revealing the attorney's address, telephone number and e-mail, as well as the helpful reminder that Redrup focuses on adult and juvenile criminal defense. The neat feature is that as you slide the card to see this contact information, the silhouetted individual is "exiting" the bars: not a bad connotation if the focus of your practice is getting people out of jail.

Canadian divorce lawyer James A. W. Mahon has an equally clever business card. At first glance, it appears to be your typical attorney business card, bearing Mahon's name, his contact information and the scales of justice.

Look closer, however, and you'll notice that the card is perforated down the middle. As a result, the card of this lawyer who helps people down the road to Splitsville can be separated down the middle into two equal pieces (each of which conveniently contains his complete contact information).

Maybe Mahon envisioned squabbling clients, who are already splitting up everything else, fighting over the card as well. The designer of the card says "we started exploring different visual solutions for the concept of divorce" before settling on "the idea of splitting and dividing."

For sheer "in your face" qualities, it's hard to match the business card of Austin criminal defense attorney Adam "Bulletproof" Reposa. Not only does his card include the nickname "Bulletproof," it goes on to describe Reposa as both a "stud trial lawyer" and below that as a "total stud trial lawyer." Apparently, saying it once is just not enough.

On the reverse side of the card is what purports to be legal advice, cautioning the reader/prospective client to simply "shut up" if he or she is tempted to try to talk his/her way out of a criminal charge like a D.W.I.

The message is not exactly subtle either: the warning to "shut up" appears four times on the back of the card, while a photo of a dog appears beneath the caption "I will make furniture out of their skin."

Just a quick fact check - there is nothing in the Texas Rules of Civil or Criminal Procedure that actually allows us to make furniture out of our opponents' skin, and the State Bar's truth in advertising requirements may not allow you to refer to yourself as "bulletproof" if in fact you cannot really deflect bullets a la Superman.

Adam Reposa, of course, is not exactly known for tact. He made news for simulating a masturbatory gesture in court, an act which resulted in him doing jail time for contempt.

Of course, with roughly 1.2 million lawyers in the U.S. (nearly 100,000 in Texas alone), standing out can be a challenge. Some lawyers try to distinguish themselves with means other than business cards.

Pittsburgh, Penn.-based attorney Norma Chase has taken the "no-frills" approach: her Yellow Pages ad and Web site refer to her as the "generic lawyer," "wholesome and suitable for normal use," "expensive trappings have not been added."

Another law firm ad takes its cue from a nutrition label, touting its SS lawyers (serving size: one law firm) as having "0 grams of fat," and featuring practice areas like business law and commercial litigation in different percentages while displaying "100 percent commitment to putting clients first" and 0 percent to "obnoxious lawyer schtick."

Some forms of lawyer advertising don't make good taste their top priority. I've previously written about the Chicago divorce lawyer whose suggestive billboards feature scantily clad men and women while urging "Life's short. Get a divorce."

Another divorce lawyer has put his name and contact information on branded condoms, which he helpfully leaves at motels in his area (presumably a source of potential clients).

Yet another divorce lawyer has his contact information printed on sets of disposable chopsticks at Chinese restaurants, figuring the attached sticks are not the only thing bound to split up.

One criminal attorney, who specializes in D.W.I. defense, hit upon the bright idea of sponsoring his local pub's St. Patrick's Day. The green shirt bears the words "Not Guilty" on the front, and the reverse is emblazoned with the lawyer's contact information.

That's pretty handy -- would-be clients can simply look at their shirts if they're pulled over. Then again, wearing the evidence of where you've been drinking may not look great on a police dashcam video.

Criminal defense attorney Allison Margolin's ads tout her as "LA's Dopest Attorney," a nod to her practice of defending those with drug charges. And few lawyers come right out and say it quite like attorney Peter John, whose ads proclaim him to be "The Thugs Lawyer."

It may be boring, but I think I'll stick with my regular old business card.

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