Under Analysis

How to get your own billboard without paying for it

Mark Levison, The Levison Group

Across the country, lawyers are confronted with balancing the right to commercial speech and lawyer advertising with professionalism and ethics rules. In my role as a governor of my State’s Bar I have not seen eye to eye with the state’s largest advertiser, Brown & Crouppen. Internal lawyer elections don’t usually get much attention, and certainly not much money is spent on campaigns. Recently that changed.

I was driving to work on a typical Friday morning when my good friend, Bob, formerly executive vice president and General Counsel of the town’s NFL football team, called. Bob wryly asked who I had ticked off this time. Given my profession, I told him there was a never ending line of suspects, and asked him why.

Bob told me there was an enormous digital billboard on the major artery into downtown which blared, “ATTENTION ATTORNEYS DO NOT VOTE FOR MARK LEVISON.” I told Bob that only Terry Crouppen of Brown & Crouppen was likely to put up a billboard like that, but presumed Bob was playing a practical joke.

Nevertheless, when I got to the office, there was an e-mail from a lawyer I didn’t know. She had seen the billboard, and since it didn’t say what I was running for, why she should “Not” vote for me, or even who had made the anonymous suggestion, she googled it. After concluding that I was running for re-election to the State Bar Board of Governors, and that the billboard had been placed by Terry Crouppen, she volunteered to help me in any way she could, including stuffing envelopes. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind walking my dogs.

The difference of opinion with Mr. Crouppen goes back about a decade when I was the chairman of the Special Committee on Lawyer Advertising of the Board of Governors. Representatives of the Special Committee, including me, met with Brown & Crouppen. I informed Terry that we believed the consensus of the Bar was that a client should not pick a lawyer based upon who had the best advertising agency. Terry looked at me as if I had three eyes in my head, no brain at all, and then bellowed, “[O]f course that’s how clients should pick a lawyer.”

The billboard has garnered a lot of attention and a number of chuckles from clients. In fact, a local realtor offered to wear a sandwich board and picket his office. My mother is quite happy because she very much likes to see my name in lights, but it angered my three daughters that anybody would dare campaign against their dad. My oldest stepson, a second year law student, asked for a framed picture of the billboard and told me, “I can only wish that someday I do my job well enough to tick off someone so badly that they spend that kind of money to get back at me.” His younger brother’s comment was, “Whatever.”

My wife, Cheryl, has her own take on the issue. She’s absolutely convinced that the state’s biggest advertiser has a man-crush on me. She points out that during two different Bar elections, he had negative leaflets handed out at the courthouse urging voters not to vote for me, he got remarried on the exact same day she and I got married, and his firm is spending gobs of money on a digital billboard. She emphasizes that virtually every time I appear on the radio, he calls in. She is pretty sure he is stalking me. In fact, Cheryl thinks I am spoiled enough, and she would have preferred it if Mr. Crouppen had erected an animal rescue billboard in the name of the legal profession — an issue much more important than continuing to focus on her husband — which she considers her job, not his.

Admittedly, it has been nice getting lots of supportive calls and e-mails, and, considering the leafleting, one judge even suggested that I had done something none of them were able to do — get Terry Crouppen to the courthouse. The fact that a lawyer is willing to spend his firm’s money to campaign in a Board of Governors race is healthy for the Bar and demonstrates the importance of some of the issues dealt with on a daily basis by state bars across the country.

Anonymous, negative campaigning may be questionable, but honest differences of opinion are healthy and should be encouraged. On a personal note, I’m proud to stand up for the profession with respect to the reasonable regulation of advertising, and, of course, getting your name out in the public is not a bad thing. On an even more personal note, I want to suggest to Terry that there are a couple more billboard locations available on some of the other highways where he might consider campaigning against me.

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Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm Lathrop & Gage L.C. You can reach the Levison Group in care of this paper or by e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.

© 2012 Under Analysis L.L.C.

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