JUST DO IT
By BRANDT GOLDSTEIN
A few weeks ago, I was ensconced in one of those new, hi-tech movie theater chairs watching a catastrophically bad film called Mission to Mars. There we were on Mars, with Gary Sinise and a bunch of other space-suited actors, Gazing in Awe at some big, red mountain. And after we got a nice, long look at the big, red mountain, the camera angled around so we could get a close view of the Gaze-in-Awe expression pasted on Sinise's face . . . and an even closer view of the Mars rover thing he'd been motoring around in -- which featured a bright yellow Pennzoil sticker.
Over the course of the movie, we also got to enjoy carefully cropped, intimate shots of other fine, high-quality products you and I trust: Budweiser, Isuzu, Dr Pepper (in both liquid and funky frozen form), M&M's . . . . Hmmm. Am I missing anything?
I'm accustomed to product placement in movies. Jennifer Aniston's lousy film Picture Perfect even squeezed Gulden's Mustard into the script itself (conveniently, she works at an ad agency). But Mission to Mars took silver-screen pitching to such extremes that the film might as well have been interrupted by full-blown commercials.
It's no secret. Art left Hollywood long ago. The dollar is king in the City of Angels. If you can make an extra $250,000 stuffing Keanu Reeves into a phat Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt during his morning running scene, who's going to say no? The sports world, of course, is even more extreme. Can you imagine Tiger Woods without his big, fat American Express contract and the ubiquitous Swoosh tattooed to every shirt, cap and shoe he wears?some serious dinero in endorsements.
Hey, if Michael Jordan can pitch Ball Park Franks and MCI long distance, why can't David Boies sing the praises of Delta Air Lines? ("When I need to get to Seattle for a deposition . . .") Just imagine the possibilities. Major Wall Street firms signing shoe contracts with Allen-Edmonds or Cole Haan? Can't you see the glossy ad in The New York Times Sunday Magazine? There they are: some white-shoe firm's management committee -- a bunch of crusty old men, of course -- arms folded, self-assured gazes fixed on the camera, decked out in gleaming burgundy oxfords. The caption: "Hugh, Wharton & Dunster brought in $175 million in revenues last year. In our shoes. What do you wear?"
Lawyers being the prestige hounds we are, expect a run on the oxfords in the picture. And that will be nothing next to the battle we'll see waged by companies that make pens (sorry: writing instruments). Mont Blanc, Sheaffer, Waterman. Who will sign Cravath? Sullivan & Cromwell? Cleary, Gottlieb? Heck, I've got a pen fetish that's as ugly as the next lawyer's. Talk about a dream come true: "Did you hear? The firm's on the Mont Blanc free list!" Next thing you know, we'll have boxes of those gleaming, lacquered Meisterstücks scattered all over the office.
I've dreamed about this sort of casual abundance after seeing the closet of a law school classmate who was once a world-class mile runner. He had boxes and boxes of Nike running shoes piled up carelessly in a heap, like so many tired hand-me-downs -- except they were brand spanking new, top-of-the line models, flooding your nostrils with that heady aroma of pristine nylon and rubber. I'm not a 3:51 miler, and I'm never making it on that list. So give me the next best thing: a fistful of gold-nibbed beauties for marking up my next brief.
Televised trials create a whole new set of possibilities. Johnnie Cochran could sign a $10 million deal with Dell. His snazzy Inspiron 3500 notebook (custom-painted in Bronco White?) would sit proudly on defense counsel's table, humming away, emblazoned with a big ol' corporate logo. (And with those kind of stakes, you can bet the fight to televise trials would get that much more interesting.)
But why stop there? Andre Agassi and Jeff Gordon (he does that car racing thing) have all those little patches stitched on their shirts. So why shouldn't Gerry Spence wear a little logo for his "favorite" court reporting service, especially during a press conference? The man should at least have a cell phone name sewed to the back of that keen suede jacket he's always wearing. (You know -- the one with the fringe and stuff.)
Deal lawyers have all sorts of opportunities. The firms who helped merge AOL and Time Warner could sign some nice, cozy deal with Starbucks, Pepsi, Domino's Pizza and all the other food and beverage companies that kept them going late at night.
Right about now -- just as you were champing at the bit to count up your big, fat endorsement possibilities -- is when the geek in the back row waves his hand, pushes his glasses back in place with his index finger, and asks if the Model Rules of Professional Conduct wouldn't prohibit this kind of All-American fun.
Yeah, yeah -- a few rules brush the issue. For instance, the Model Rules consider conflicts of interest a big no-no. Rule 1.7 says you can't represent one client if it's against the interests of another client . But if your firm's partners are simply getting big bucks from Hermes to wear $100-plus ties, the French fashion house really isn't a "client," is it?Duh. No problem with past fights, though. Heck, if Microsoft really liked the way government heavyweight David Boies (actually in private practice with his own firm) shredded the company's defense team, why not sign him up after the case is over? Boies' briefcase might look kind of snappy with that cheerful Windows logo slapped on the side. (Okay. So maybe you've got appearance-of-impropriety issues here. But as long as Boies isn't back in the saddle for the government against Microsoft, I'll take the briefcase visual even if it means a raised eyebrow.)
The endorsement racket also might pose ethical questions about advertising -- always a thorny issue with lawyers. Even though my ad involving the fictional firm of Hugh, Wharton & Dunster was for a shoe company, it promotes Hugh, too, right? I suppose the Model Rules on advertising probably apply. Yes, the Rules hem and haw about taste and decorum. But in the end, all they pretty much say is you can't poke people in the chest and ask to represent them, and you can't tell 'em some big, fat lie about your brilliant track record if you suck. And neither of those verboten things is happening here. So hey! Reach for the shoe horn.
Anyway, let me throw in two other common-sense rules to keep us straight. Like the first rule, they're more or less about conflict of interest, but extend to other players in the system: (1) No endorsements by judges. Can't have them wearing a big Adidas symbol or "Capital Dry Cleaning" on the robe. After all, one of those companies might sue or get sued in the judge's courtroom. (2) No endorsements for government lawyers. This one's pretty obvious, too -- though it might mean David Boies can't do the Microsoft deal, which is a bummer. 'Cause I was really digging his briefcase.
What it comes down to is this: if you're against endorsements, it's almost certainly an issue of propriety and dignity. You're thinking: this is below the profession. Well, I've got news for you. In case you've been on Mars with Gary Sinise, we lawyers grade out just above ringworm in the eyes of the public. As far as they're concerned, our so-called profession has no dignity, and that's an assessment we've earned -- depo by depo, trial by trial, appeal by appeal. The public thinks all we care about is money anyway, and frankly, it's our protestations to the contrary that get us into trouble. So let's cut with the hypocrisy. If we simply confessed that it's the Big Buck we care about, there'd be no need to keep holding up this fig leaf of professional "dignity."
If the whole thing still makes you queasy, consider this: in the end, maybe the very fact that we're lawyers -- boring, conservative, anal -- will make most companies shy away from us. Ever see one of those Let 'Em Know You're Jockey ads? (You can find them all at www.jockey.com.) They feature a bunch of good-looking, rock-hard twentysomethings who do cool stuff (snowboarding, surfing, firefighting), all vogueing for the camera, their pants around their ankles, proudly displaying their Jockey boxers. Now, just trot out a few pasty Manhattan attorneys for one of those ads.
End of campaign. End of company. End of an idea that could've made us all rich if we'd kept our Dockers on.