Lawsuits as a Marketing Ploy (Always a Bad Idea?)

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 29, 2019

Is filing a lawsuit is a good marketing ploy? Do we really have to ask this question?

Seriously, that would be like hitting your thumb with a hammer because it stuck out like a sore thumb. Litigation is painful enough without all the attention. But if you are going to seek attention this way, here are some things to think about before you file a lawsuit for publicity purposes.

First, put away your hammer and take a look at some recent examples of the Streisand Effect run amok.

Exhibit A: Bad Press

P.T. Barnum said there's no such thing as bad publicity, but he also said there's a sucker born every minute. Take your pick; they are both bad advice for business. This is doubly true in the law business.

Many law firms love clients who want to inflame their issues. It's like throwing gasoline and cash on a fire. Turn the spotlight on some trial lawyers, and you'll create another Michael Avenatti. (If you didn't know, Avenatti burst onto the national television scene representing a porn star against a president. It did not end well.) That's not the typical case, but every case has the potential to go south. And it's not just the opposing counsel who will drag your company down. Often, it's the press, or these days, social media.

Brendan Palfreyman, an attorney, is following StoneBrewing v MillerCoors Keystone on Twitter. He noted the parties are disputing documents that "purportedly show Stone has tracked the monetary benefit of filing and publicizing the lawsuit." Result: Even if Stone wins, that's not a good look.

Exhibit B: No Bull

When you have a high-profile case, it's a good idea to prepare for media attention. Press releases can help mold a brand's message. Just remember the litigation privilege doesn't cover press releases, and ethical rules prohibit lawyers from disseminating information that could prejudice an adjudicative proceeding. And despite what P.T. Barnum says, never try to dupe the public or the press.

A Colorado lawyer learned that lesson the hard way. Patrick Hawkins Wake tried to get some attention as the highest bidder at a public auction for steers, hogs, and other animals. When he didn't pay up, however, he got more attention than he bargained for. The National Western Stock Show sued him for $10,000, but the media hit him harder with a story that went nationwide. "The lawsuit involves thousands of dollars and a load of bull," wrote Thomas Gounley.

Once More for Those in the Back

If you want publicity with your lawsuit, leave your hammer behind and take a shovel. And aim carefully.

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