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Tampa Bay leads the nation in number of lawyer ads on TV

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Published Oct. 27, 2015

Tampa Bay usually takes pride when it turns out to be No. 1 in national rankings. But to be this year's U.S. metro area most barraged by TV commercials from trial lawyers may not be what this market had in mind.

A spot count of ads run in major metros for the first eight months of this year placed Tampa Bay first with 164,781, followed closely by Orlando with 142,607, together making Central Florida ground zero for saturation TV advertising in 2015 by trial lawyers. So says a study being released today by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform. The organization is dedicated to fighting what it considers to be too many lawsuits, which, it argues, is a major drag on the U.S. economy.

The just released Trial Lawyer Marketing analysis says high concentrations of trial lawyer ads may reflect legal markets more conducive to filing lawsuits. "But regardless of the reason, it is apparent that legal advertisers are targeting select markets." The report also discusses how law firms are increasingly using sophisticated social media to spread their brands and litigation messages online while additionally searching for more potential clients.

For the small number of folks in Tampa Bay who have not already guessed, ads by the Morgan & Morgan "For The People" personal injury law firm dominate the local TV air waves — not to mention radio, billboards and bus exteriors. The Orlando-based law firm boasts more than 250 lawyers and a support staff of nearly 1,500 employees and says it has helped more than 75,000 clients nationwide. The firm's TV ads typically highlight the soothing, lawyerly voice of founder John Morgan, but increasingly feature the next generation of the Morgan legal family.

Total Morgan & Morgan TV ad budget: in excess of $24 million annually. Its many legal settlements over the years range from $90 million from litigation against Big Tobacco and multiple $10 million-plus settlements involving medical malpractice to dozens of settlements for as little as $25,000, typically related to car or workplace accidents.

That ad budget is second only to the Houston trial lawyer giant Akin Mears, whose $30 million in TV ads is aimed at mesothelioma-, asbestos- and pelvic-sling-related litigation, according to the Institute for Legal Reform report.

Nearly matching Morgan & Morgan in TV spending is another Houston law firm, Pulaski & Middleman, whose "1-800-BAD DRUG" ads for "transvaginal mesh failures" seeks victims willing to join class-action suits or related litigation.

Morgan & Morgan ads may dominate local airwaves, but they are just one of many area law firms hammering their brand on TV. The law firm Culpepper & Kurland features frequent ads of the highly groomed attorney duo of Brad Culpepper and Brett Kurland, shown moving in slow motion on courthouse steps to a hard rock beat. In reality, their auto accident line of business typically settles cases before going to trial and rarely sees the inside of a court room. Tampa firm Catania & Catania, founded by brothers Peter and Paul Catania, also uses TV ads often to promote their personal injury services, as do St. Petersburg lawyers Jennifer Beltz and James Flynn, who identifies as "Your Southside lawyer."

Bottom line? The release of Tuesday's report on the boom in trial lawyer marketing coincides with the Institute for Legal Reform's 16th Annual Legal Reform Summit in Washington, D.C., where legal experts discuss lawsuit trends, the global spread of class-action litigation and what the institute calls "over-enforcement." Fox Business Network host and libertarian pundit John Stossel, never a fan of trial lawyers, keynotes the event.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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