Don’t get me wrong — I’m an unabashed fan of video for lawyers. As I’ve said many times, most recently in this presentation, video satisfies Internet users’ craving for intimacy, as well prospective clients’ natural curiosity to get a peek at the lawyer behind the online presence. Likewise, I’m also believer in the persuasive power of the client testimonial, since a client’s first-hand endorsement can humanize and add dimension to otherwise static web profiles or ad.
Given these preferences, you’d expect me to favor video-taped client testimonials. But I don’t. For me, videotaped client interviews cross an unwritten boundary from educational to exploitative, even where clients knowingly, willingly and enthusiastically give their consent. Granted, in an open society like ours, it’s hard to argue that video testimonials encroach on clients’ privacy. After all, lawsuits themselves are public matters, as our Constitution intended. With courts going online and trials widely televised, the general public has unprecedented access to all of the minutia of a lawsuit, from pleadings to depositions and the trial proceedings themselves. For a variety of reasons — due process, judicial accountability and education – increased public access to our court system is a good thing.
Still, what the public doesn’t have a right to see is the emotional toll that criminal charges or a civil lawsuit have on a client’s life. Yet video-taped testimonials splay these emotions across the Internet, sapping clients of their last vestiges of privacy and dignity. And while client testimonials have been used on television commercials for some time, there’s something about those testimonials on the Internet – where they’re available for instant replay – that magnifies the intrusiveness. Moreover, because video shows a client’s face and mannerisms and emotions, it’s simply more invasive than a written testimonial (with which I have no problem).
True, attorneys don’t force clients to offer video-testimonials. But should a lawyer even ask to begin with? After a successful lawsuit, clients — particularly those who were represented on a contingency basis and at no cost to them — are so incredibly grateful that many would be willing to dress up in a chicken-suit and parade up and down Main Street with a sandwich board proclaiming “Joe Smith — Best Lawyer Ever!” So when a lawyer asks clients to provide a video-testimonial, clients may feel compelled to oblige even though it’s not necessarily in their best interest. How voluntary is that?
The other aspect of video-taped testimonials that disturbs me is that they reveal details (albeit non-privileged ones) about the attorney-client relationship which to me, are better left unspoken. To me, the attorney-client relationship is sacred, and in many ways, more intimate (in a non-sexual way, obviously) than marriage. We see clients at their most vulnerable, harbor secrets that they’d never reveal to close family or friends. How we lawyers represent our clients in court is a public matter for all to see, but the way in which we explain a case to clients, interact with them and comfort them ought to remain between us.
For my regular readers, I realize that my views may seem unexpectedly conventional for someone who prides herself as a 21st Century lawyer. Sorry to disappoint. Perhaps, in a decade or two, as conventions of privacy change (and indeed they will), so too will my visceral reaction to TMI. Until then, I’d like to preserve whatever toehold of dignity of my clients can carve out in a world that’s becoming increasingly transparent.