May 2007 Ethics Dunces

The Chicago Law Firm of Fetman Garland and Associates

For most of the 20th Century, lawyers were forbidden to advertise their services with anything more demonstrative than a yellow pages listing. Then the U.S. Supreme Court declared that bar association restrictions on lawyer advertising amounted to a First Amendment violation. Most lawyers keep their advertisements and commercials tasteful and restrained, but the ads of those who do not are often so visible and offensive that they overwhelm the public with the impression that attorneys have no shame. A case in point: the Chicago firm of Fetman and Garland, which decided to show what an offensive ad campaign really looked like.

It created a billboard showing the ripped torso of a male swimsuit model on one side and a neck-down view of a woman who could give Pamela Anderson a run for her money in a wet T-shirt contest on the other. In the middle was this:
Life's short. Get a Divorce.

Depending how you look at it, the billboard was a huge success for the law firm. Even though the ad and its message was roundly attacked as offensive and immoral, and the billboard was removed after only a week, calls to the firm reportedly increased dramatically. Who knows how many married people got just the inspiration they needed to dump the wife and kids, hit the gym and dating bars, and find a younger, fitter replacement for the old ball and chain?

Astoundingly, the creator of the ad, firm founder Corri Fetman (Fetman Garland is an all-female firm, surprising the Gold Coast residents who were certain that the picture of the busty woman whose prominent assets appear to be ready to spring off the billboard and crush a Volvo or two could only be the work of a male chauvinist pig) defended the ad on ethical grounds. "The message really is that life is very, very short, and you need to be honest with yourself and have some personal integrity," she explained. "If you are unhappy, take some action and do something about it."

That's right, Corri…take some action and make someone else unhappy instead, like your spouse and children. The message of the billboard, far from extolling integrity, is pleasure over commitment, lust over love, personal satisfaction over loyalty, and the casual destruction of the family unit. As psychologists James and Audora Burg wrote in the "Sturgis Journal," what the billboard is really saying is this:

Dissatisfied with your marriage? Tempted by the physique of another? Go for it. Life's too short not to go bed-jumping and house-wrecking. Got kids? Oh, don't worry about them. They're resilient. You just have a great time. Then when life crumbles around you, call us and we'll dispose of that inconvenient set of vows you made.

Divorce attorneys who try to initiate divorces are like criminal defense lawyers who want to raise the crime rate. The position of the family law bar and state bar associations has always been that lawyers in divorce proceedings should never actively seek to pull a family apart. That is why it is forbidden for domestic lawyers to charge contingent fees, for if they would only be paid if there were no reconciliation, they would have stake in seeing the marriage dissolved, and that would constitute a conflict of interest contrary to public policy…public policy being that marriages are worth preserving.

There is no provision in Illinois' ethics rules for lawyers that Fetman Garland and Associates violated---they didn't lie (life is short); the ad isn't misleading and doesn't make unsubstantiated claims. It's just a crass, callous, irresponsible message designed to appeal to our worst instincts, suggesting that it's peachy keen to punt life's obligations, commitments and duties because "life is short." And undoubtedly people who relate to that thoroughly unethical message will find their way to Fetman Garland and Associates.

A perfect match.




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