In a town without a name, in a heavy downpour
Thought he passed his own shadow, by the backstage door
Like a trip through the past, to that day in the rain
And that one guitar, made his whole life change
– “Juke Box Hero” by Mick Jones (Foreigner)
At the risk of sounding grandiose (and really dating myself) that lyric sprang into my head today when I realized how far the practice of law has come, and me along with it.
The song focuses on a boy unable to purchase a ticket to a sold-out rock concert. Listening from outside, he hears “one guitar” and has an epiphany, leading him to buy his own guitar from a second-hand store and begin to play without any lessons. He realizes that with the guitar he can become a success, and does. He eventually encounters another fan outside the stage door at one of his concerts, who reminds him of himself and how it all began.*
Today I came home from a particularly good day at the office. We signed up a couple of really good cases, settled a case in a way that exceeded the client’s wildest dreams, and received notice of an appellate victory. Like I said, a good day.
I came home and found a yellow page directory had been dropped on my stoop. I wasn’t even sure it was a phone book because it was so thin; I thought it might be a magazine. I picked it up and thumbed to the attorney section. There were only 12 attorney ads in the entire section, and all of them were dollar bill size or smaller, with the exception of one double truck ad by a personal injury firm. Back in the day, there would have been several double-truck ads, followed by 20 or so full page ads, then numerous half-page ads, and then dozens of smaller ads.
Yeah, so the yellow pages are dying, what’s your point Morris?
When I started my firm, the yellow pages were the lifeblood of many start-ups. Attorneys felt locked into working for firms because there was no effective mechanism to get clients, unless you had a reliable referral source or sufficient war chest to compete in the yellow pages. The yellow pages were hugely expensive, and the best page positions were given first to those who bought the biggest ads, followed by those who had been in the book the longest. A new personal injury attorney couldn’t afford the double page ads the established firms purchased, and was thus relegated to the back of the ads.
And the viable practice areas for a new attorney were those that would “sell” in the yellow pages. Personal injury, bankruptcy, family law, criminal defense would work, but my practice areas of First Amendment law and appeals, not so much. Like the boy who couldn’t get into the sold-out concert, the yellow pages were not open to me.
Now, with the Internet (which would be the guitar “slung way down low” if we want to complete the song and the metaphor), the playing field has been greatly leveled. With an advertising budget of $50 per month and sufficient know-how, a new firm can absolutely own their practice areas and compete with the best of them. There has never been a better time to be an attorney. If your practice isn’t where you want it to be, you just gotta keep on rockin’, you just can’t stop.
* A bit of trivia: Mick Jones said that the song was inspired by an actual fan who stood waiting outside an arena for about five hours in the rain. Jones, impressed by his dedication, decided to take him in and give him a glimpse of what happens backstage at a show.