How many lawyers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? That’s the joke behind a new marketing video from the Minneapolis law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis. But is the joke on the firm?

Here’s the set-up: In an office-building lobby, a maintenance worker uses a pole to reach into a ceiling fixture and unscrew a presumably blown-out lightbulb. As he removes it, a group of five lawyers enters the lobby. One, talking on his mobile phone as he eyes the worker, says, “Wait a second, I got to take care of something right now.” With that, he reaches into his briefcase, pulls out a replacement bulb and takes the pole from the worker. Then, all five lawyers grab the pole and walk in unison in a circle, collectively screwing in the bulb. As they do, the words appear, “Team vs. Individual,” followed by, “We work together, so we win together.”

Yes, collaboration is a good thing. But not a good thing, at least in the eyes of the clients who pay the bills, is redundancy.

I understand that this video is tongue-in-cheek. According to an email I received, it represents “the latest in a long string of innovative marketing campaigns laced with subtle humor and the firm’s willingness to poke fun at itself.”

I like humor. Really I do. But even if the firm’s intent was to poke fun at itself, at what cost? Is the predominant message here a positive one? Isn’t the message, “Our firm will use five people to do the work of one”? The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t and shouldn’t take five lawyers to change a light bulb. If that’s how many lawyers you use to change a light bulb, how many are you going to send to a deposition?

Not to mention, the poor worker whose job it was to change the bulb appeared to be handling it just fine until the lawyers took it over. So the secondary message is, “We grab control without being asked of things that aren’t our business in the first place.”

I feel bad when a legal marketer brings something to my attention with obvious pride in what they’ve done, only to find myself disagreeing. To me, this video is funny only until you stop to think about it–or perhaps I should say, until a potential client stops to think about it.

Ah, but this post is not all sour grapes. The video was produced as part of a broader relaunch of the firm’s website and messaging. Here, the firm has succeeded. I have not gone back and looked at the firm’s former website, but its new site is nicely designed with strong messaging, simple navigation and good writing. I would rethink the video if I were them, but the website is a keeper.

Am I wrong about this video? What do you think?

  • Oh dear. You are spot on, Bob. It’s unfortunate the firm spent the money to produce this. Perhaps the best they can hope for is greater name recognition after all the negative press?


    • Right, the old, “I don’t care what you say, just spell the name right.”

  • I actually disagree. I understand where you are coming from, but the video doesn’t leave that impression with me at all, even though, I guess, you could come to that conclusion if you really had to analyze it. But at first glance and switching off my lawyer’s mind for a minute, I actually think it is refreshingly non traditional and somewhat funny. If I were a consumer, it would speak to me on some level and make me feel drawn to that firm.

    • Good. There’s a positive vote. Maybe I need to stop over-analyzing.

  • If they’d found a humorous way to show teamwork with each member doing something different (one gets the light bulb, another retrieves the pole, etc.) to contribute to a shared result, THAT probably would have gotten the desired message across. But as you observed, it’s the fact that they’re all doing precisely the same thing (and probably billing for it) that creates the unfortunate “we’ll each bill 0.1 hours to review every minor pleading that’s filed” impression.

  • Steven Finell

    I agree completely with Robert’s original post. It isn’t a matter of over-analyzing. No positive reaction can come from this video. It isn’t even funny. Clients, from large corporations to individuals, fear that their firms over-staff so they can over-bill. Regrettably, that fear is often justified. Nilan Johnson’s video validates that fear. It does not show teamwork; it shows stupidity. There are countless ways to show a team working together to accomplish something that one or two individuals cannot do as effectively–you can even show them side-by-side–with as much or as little humor as you please. That a group of lawyers could even think that this video sends a positive message reflects poorly on their judgment.

  • Bob,
    I think you hit the nail right on the head. This is a branding piece that frankly, in my opinion, does nothing to set themselves apart from their competitors. As a potential client viewing this ad, there is nothing compelling about this video that would make me want to call them instead of another big law firm.

    As often happens when creatives try to make something humorous, the point will be immediately lost on many who fail to get the inside joke.

    I am hopeful that this law firm did not simply have a desire to throw away their marketing resources, but rather wanted to try something new and be different. They should be applauded for trying to be different.

    However, a difference without a distinction yields no marketable or definable results.

    My gut instinct when watching this video is that I don’t understand why these five lawyers needed to intervene when the maintenance guy was doing a great job on his own. It was not as if the maintenance man was looking for help or found himself in a precariously dangerous position that he needed assistance.

    I have always been of the opinion that if you are going to invest the time and resources to create a marketing piece or marketing strategy, that you be able to definitively measure your results and generate a call to action as a result of your marketing strategy.

    This video fails to do any of that and opens the firm up to ridicule and commentary. Maybe that was the point of creating this type of tongue-in-cheek message. As you know, some firms thrive on controversy and generate lots of publicity with strange and unusual marketing pieces.

    I recently critiqued and ad in the Legal Marketing Association Journal which basically said “Look at how many awards we’ve gotten for our website design.” The ad missed the point that marketing is not about looking pretty or getting awards. Instead, it’s driving clients and generating revenue.

    Looking at this video, I question how this firm will generate any revenue from this marketing piece. It is not an educational piece, nor does it distinguish itself from any other law firm.

    I’m with you on this one. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Best regards,

  • Couldn’t agree with you more Gerry. Video, like any other medium, be it your website or social media strategy has to convert, full-stop. There’s so much noise in this space that firms can literally get swept up by the shiny new thing with completely forgetting about ROI.

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