Wednesday, 4 December 2013

In praise of RollonFriday and in horror at a racist American PI firm ad

Gone are the days when the idea of advertising their services would make a firm's partners go into meltdown, but the brave new world isn't always good. Take the below ad, purportedly by American personal injury firm McCutcheon & Hamner.


I encountered what is surely a contender for worst-ever PI firm ad on today's RollonFriday update. There are those in the legal profession who seem to live in fear of RollonFriday, but I'm not one of them.

The site, co-founded by former City solicitor Matthew Rhodes (who, in 2011, was awarded an OBE for a RollonFriday initiative that saw laid off City solicitors redeployed to undertake pro bono work), is a scourge of bunkum and pomposity in the law. RollonFriday can't claim to be first to have alerted McCutcheon & Hamner's disastrous ad to the world - that honour goes to the no less estimable Above the Law, across the pond - but it has brought it to a UK audience. And what a remarkably awful ad we now behold.

There is absolutely nothing which is fair, reasonable or even mildly amusing about the ad. It's extraordinary, in today’s world, that any right-thinking person could have signed it off for publication. But that's just what someone, somewhere did - and here the plot thickens.

As reported by Above the Law, uproar about the ad's overt racism prompted McCutcheon & Hamner to issue its "sincerest apologies" - and claim that its YouTube channel had been hacked. "Our firm did not approve the latest advertising commercial," says the firm. "We apologize to anyone who has watched the commercial. Our IT team has been working all morning to get the commercial taken off YouTube and find the person who is responsible for this action."

However, Definitive Television - evidently the production company behind the video - are unrepentant. Click here to learn of their position: that they were hired to make the film by McCutcheon & Hamner, who knew full well of its content. They accordingly refuse to remove the footage from YouTube. Into the bargain, they add insult to injury by justifying the creation of a character they call Mr Wong Fong Shu. He, like other creations, is apparently "intentionally provocative" and "edgy".

What nonsense. The character in the ad isn't "provocative" (another Definite Television argument); he's a nauseating caricature, a slice of racism pure and simple.

No wonder, with ads like these, that American PI lawyers have a bad name. As if the ambulance-chasing tag isn't bad enough, here racism is thrown into the mix.

McCutcheon & Hamner are based in Alabama, one of the bastions of the Confederacy. It's disturbing to find evidence that suggests things in the Deep South haven't moved on from the bad old days. And more worrying still is the danger that racists might warm to the ad; that for all the negative PR the firm might actually get some business out of it.

Let's hope not. And commendations to RollonFriday and Above the Law for making people think.