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Lex Appeal – Can Sex Sell Legal Services?

July 9th, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

Lex Appeal – Can Sex Sell Legal Services?

Sex Sells

Using sexually suggestive content to market products or services is as old as advertising itself. The truism of sex sells is pushed forward in advertising with every passing Super Bowl. Jeans and shampoo as sexualized products are standard fare.  The latest messages to be sexed-up include website hostingcancer awareness, and coffee. When it comes to competing for limited attention spans, sex is pretty much a sure bet. Like moths to a flame, we humans are a predictable lot. Even the moral outrage that follows sexualized marketing is practically scripted.

Sexy Stock

Sexy Lawyer Stock Photo

“Sexy Lawyer” from iStockphoto

From an ad agency’s viewpoint, the sexualized nature of advertising is on full display on stock photography websites. Even a seemingly benign search query will generate images of scantily clad women (a microcosm of the Internet). Just about any search for pictures of women will produce results for images tagged as sexy [see sexism below]. What is perhaps surprising is that this remains consistent for stock imagery of business professionals. A search for “sexy lawyers” produces results that are 90% female and 72% offensive.

Sexy Lawyers?

If sex sells just about everything, can it sell legal services?

It certainly sells the profession.  The handsome lawyer is a staple of American culture, from Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch to George Clooney as Michael Clayton.   Much like Law & Order evolved to reflect modern technology, so too have women emerged as central characters in legal dramas. The Ally MacBeal effect also established law firms as highly sexualized workplaces where female lawyers would routinely use their sex appeal as yet another weapon in their legal toolkits. The Harvey Specter effect follows suit(s) and the Internet has even taken the time to create a Law & Order Prosecutor Hotness Ranking.

Outside of prime time programming, sex has not been a big part of marketing law firms…in Canada at any rate (must be our British roots). Leaving aside the wildly immature Life’s Short. Get a Divorce campaign flogged to death (pun intended) by American law firm Corri Fetman & Associates, Ltd., sex has not been a substantive part of the Canadian legal advertiser’s paradigm. My view is that this is directly tied to the ever-present issue of Women & the Law. The short story is that women have not achieved equal participation in the profession due to entrenched social and economic structures. If I had an MBA, I would note that the legal profession lacks a level playing field.

The stereotype of old white men has remained the dominant face of the profession. Marketing this demographic with sex appeal has not been a popular approach. Neither has harnessing the sex appeal of young male associates in their sharp three piece suits. This follows from the traditional view that most clients are caucasian heterosexual men. This raises the question of who are these hypothetical clients that we’re talking about and how can we give them what they want?

Times change. My law school class was around 60% female. While the structural problems at the top of the profession remain unresolved, there are now binders of women practising law. Similarly, the hypothetical client is changing as well. With such demographic changes and an increasingly competitive market, can sex sell legal services? Or to take another tack…should it?

Do clients want to hire sexy lawyers?

The big question from our perspective is who clients want to hire. By that we mean what characteristics do they possess that go beyond skin deep. Anecdotally, we still see a strong demand for old white men because they  “look like lawyers.” This cuts across gender, ethnicity, and age. I still hear stories of clients who hire lawyers without any overlapping spoken language competency. There is certainly emerging demand evidenced by Google searches for other compentencies like: “Punjabi Speaking Injury Lawyer” or “Best Female Family Lawyers.” However, this group of prospective clients remains a small, albeit growing, segment of the market. Either prospective clients don’t care, or sex and age are implied in generic search queries.

What I can say is that people aren’t actively looking for sexy lawyers. I’ve seen almost every imaginable legal search query over the years and sex has never been on the radar. The subsequent question is whether sex appeal would make the difference in choosing between equally qualified counsel. We know that a lawyer’s image on their LinkedIn profile is the most important part of the profile, but does this apply to looking sexy on a website? Does a sexy image undermine your competency as a lawyer? This is certainly a risk.

Lawyers have the advantage of professional attire. Both men and women can look good in business clothes. Well-cut suits and business skirts are routinely cited as being sexy uniforms. There is also a confidence and projected power carried by many lawyers that people find sexually compelling. Whether intentional or not, there are already firms of “hot lawyers.”


Young businessman standing

A rare “sexy lawyer” that happens to be a man.

My view is that lawyers should market themselves according to their personality. If you have a sexually charged public personality, go with it (bearing in mind the dicates of the Code of Professional Conduct and the legal marketing rules therein…ahem). The legal market is vast and there is room for all kinds of personalities. The other advantage in harnessing sex appeal is that it allows you to distinguish yourself from competitors. This is, after all, one of the goals of marketing.

Building Lex Appeal

The majority of lawyers will choose not to market their services using sex. In that case, you still need something other than legal competency through which prospective clients can relate to you and remember you. I call this zest. It can be art, music, shoes, sports, religion, a cowboy hat or your crazy polka dot bow-tie.  It just needs to be something. For example, I’m a lawyer that bakes pies. That’s my zest. While some lawyers are lawyer’s lawyers (people who are lawyers to their very spiritual core) there’s only so much room for this brand in any market. For emphasis, it is OK for lawyers to have a personality.


I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the blatant sexism in this blog post. While I’ve tried to be fair between the sexes, the world doesn’t even pretend to be fair. The notion that “sex sells” is generally synonymous with “objectified female bodies leveraged to make a buck at the expense of gender equality.” This culture pervades our society. Accordingly, using sex appeal in any marketing is admittedly problematic. While I do see this as a problem, I also think that it helps change public perceptions in terms of who looks like a lawyer. Lawyers come in all genders, colours, shapes, sizes, and ages. From a marketing perspective, each of these is a branding opportunity.  There’s nothing more modern than acknowledging sexism, owning your sex appeal, and getting back to work.

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***** Best Lawyer in Town — Managing Law Firm Reviews

May 21st, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

***** Best Lawyer in Town — Managing Law Firm Reviews

Reviews Rule

According to Google:

97% of consumers research products and services online before buying locally.

90% of customers say that buying decisions are influenced by reading online reviews.

55% of small businesses have zero reviews on the web.

The Best Lawyer

These numbers suggest that besides a website, attracting positive reviews should be a top priority for your firm. You want to be known as the best lawyer in town.

Not so easy. Lawyers in British Columbia cannot advertise as being the “best” because it is inherently unverifiable. Even if you could, prospective clients are not going to give you much credibility for such self-serving marketing bumph. Despite this explicit guidance, the legal marketing directory Best Lawyers (a peer-reviewed system) remains a common sight in the legal community. Is it enough if other lawyers confirm that you really are the best? Does this make it verifiable?

Public reviews are governed by similar standards, with the Law Society offering specific guidance on client testimonials. Testimonials must be true and verifiable. This applies to all marketing materials produced by the firm, including the website or any print materials. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Great Email Consent Gold Rush of 2014

April 17th, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

The Great Email Consent Gold Rush of 2014

With Canada’s anti-spam legislation coming into force on July 1st, professional services firms are rushing to “use it or lose it” with their mailing lists. If your firm has an existing mailing list that you use to reach clients, prospects, or people in your referral network, you’ll need them to expressly opt-in to receive future communications. If you don’t obtain this opt-in by July 1st, your contact list’s value will immediately drop to zero. The risks and legality of the anti-spam regulations have been covered in detail elsewhere.  For ourPublic domain image of man panning for gold purposes, this is a simple reminder that the clock is ticking. You’ll want to make sure that you have a strategy for chasing down all those express consents. There is wiggle room for “implied consents,” but we don’t recommend going this route. You’ll also want to make sure that any newsletter (MailChimp, ConstantContact etc) and sign-up systems that your firm uses are compliant with the new regulations (opt-ins and unsubscribes).

There are severe penalties for non-compliance. The maximum fine for organizations is $10 million canadian dollars. Do we have your attention yet? We expect regulators will be looking to make early examples of a few unlucky organizations. Don’t let this be your law firm/accountancy/veterinary practice/investment group.

You have 75 Days!



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Interesting Lawyers Needed

April 7th, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

Interesting Lawyers Needed

In Search of Interesting

Legal communications are defined by precise, qualified, long-winded, and (sometimes admittedly) boring language.  Most lawyers are best suited to communicating within legal audiences. This presents obvious challenges in marketing law firms where the recipients of the message are, for the most part, not lawyers.

News Flash: when even the eyes of other lawyers glaze over when their colleagues start to expound on much of what lawyers do, how do you think the general public is going to respond? Because law is a vast area, sound-byte attention spans will inevitably gravitate to the most interesting snippets. The law is no different from academia, “interestingness” trumps (or at least obscures) the truth.  Oliver Burkeman’s recent column in the Guardian offers a reminder in how interestingness, and our addiction to it, remains dominant in most fields. The rise of the web has made interesting into something of an unofficial religion. The risks of interesting things are a) that they are not necessarily true and b) that they ignore the fact that many of the most important things are mundane. British Columbia Judge or Lawyer

Interesting as SEO

Google claims to be a company in pursuit of providing relevant search results. In practice, this often means delivering interesting search results. Distinguishing the two is less meta-data and more metaphysics. This problem cannot be solved through engineering alone.

Much of what we do at Skunkworks is try to make lawyers and law firms interesting to the general public (we also try to make them look good while we’re at it). It’s worth reviewing the paper cited by Burkeman in terms of identifying what types of things are interesting (at least according to Burkeman). Some of them include:

  • Arguing that something good is bad;
  • What seems like different things are actually part of the same thing;
  • What seems like a local phenomenon is actually a general thing;
  • What seems to be stable is actually changing;
  • What seems to be dysfunctional is actually functional;
  • What seems to be unrelated is actually correlated; and
  • The inverse of any of the above.

In an attempt to make this post interesting, let me note that legal communications are actually part of a much broader group of specialized communications. Within this group, interesting things will triumph over the boring (even if the boring ones are technically accurate). Secondly, the hallmarks of legal communications are not stable, but ever-changing (albeit slowly). Latin was once standard and is now seen as literally archaic.

Most importantly, the fact that so much of what lawyers produce is boring (bad from a marketing perspective) is actually a good thing. It provides an opportunity for some lawyers and firms to differentiate themselves. The bar remains high, but the bar for interestingness is relatively low. In making this case, I want to emphasize that many of the most interesting things are also true.

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The Risks of Redesign

March 11th, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

The Risks of Redesign

The thing about change is that it is value neutral. Despite a commonly held assumption that change is for the better (see also progress), one of the risks of change is that things may actually get worse. This risk is certainly applicable to web design. In redesigning a website, what if you make it worse?

Some good examples are currently front page news…literally. Both The Globe and Mail as well as The Guardian (you’ll have to opt-in for the beta site) are undergoing major redesigns. My personal opinion is that the Globe looks terrible while the Guardian offers a best-practices example of modern web design. Change is a mixed bag.

 Globe and Mail Home Page

The Guardian Home Page


Without being familiar with their exact motivations for the respective redesigns, my guess is that they were doing their best to keep-up with the fragmentation of device screen sizes. Between Apple’s Retina Displays (2880 x 1800) and the most common resolution at 1366 x 768 (not to mention several other relevant considerations relating to the actual display of the pixels), what is the best way to display your website such that it looks good to the most number of people? This is increasingly one of the fundamental challenges faced by web designers. It also offers a very good motivation to pursue a redesign.

The Globe opted to pursue a “boxed” approach with a narrow middle column that is scaled to fit relatively low resolution screens. High resolution displays will simply have large white margins. In contrast, the Guardian is pursuing a “wide” approach using all screen real-estate and a responsive design platform that re-arranges content to fit the size of the screen. The latter is harder from a development perspective, but offers a cleaner layout. 

The choice of boxed vs wide alone won’t determine the success of a redesign. In my view, The Globe failed the redesign by cramming too many puzzle pieces together. The result is overwhelming and practically illegible. It actually looks a lot like a poorly executed version of the New York Times (which I gather provided the inspiration). This brings me to my tenets of website redesign:

  1. Don’t make it worse. Developers will develop and designers will design. If you have something good, be very careful when you instruct your design team. They will inevitably be more inclined towards change. In contrast, your users/visitors will inevitably avoid change and would prefer incremental modifications. You’ll need to balance the two.
  2.  Beta, Beta, Beta. While all large websites will be tested internally and with focus groups before launch, allowing for an opt-in beta design or a limited application of the new site will provide important insights. Google has made this type of opt-in testing a feature that their customers actually get excited about.
  3. Be prepared to fail. In my book, The Globe has failed this redesign. This creates a difficult management decision: should they roll-back to the old site? Management is not an easy job and making this kind of executive decision is tough.
  4. Follow trends. Everyone wants to do their own thing when it comes to design, but trends exist for a reason. Most redesigns are currently leaning towards the wide format because it looks amazing. This shouldn’t be determinative, but it should give you a strong push in that direction.  

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