For Texas lawyer, DUI and illegal searches are laughing matters

Texas lawyer's ads go viral
Texas lawyer's ads go viral

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Story highlights

  • Lawyer's viral ads feature pink-faced stoners, motorcycle antics, a dwarf in a Breathalyzer machine
  • First ad turned him into a pariah, attorney said, but now his "talons of justice" catchphrase is taking off
  • Former professor said she had concerns at first, but acknowledges ads are "cheeky and have pizzazz"

(CNN)When the Supreme Court overturned the ban on lawyers advertising in 1977, justices probably didn't envision the barrage of over-the-top pleas for your legal business.

But Bryan Wilson, Fort Worth's 29-year-old self-proclaimed "Texas law hawk," may have some of the most outlandish yet.
That's no small feat, considering the competition: gems like Jamie Casino's 2014 Super Bowl ad, or the years of ads from Virginia's Lowell "The Hammer" Stanley, or the ads for Pittsburgh rapper-cum-lawyer Daniel Muessig depicting criminals doing their thing while saying, "Thanks, Dan!"
    Like Stanley, Wilson is loud and confident in his commercials, and like Casino and Muessig, he paints authorities as overstepping bullies. Blog posts on Wilson's website carry titles such as "things not to say to police" and "new trick to beat a Texas DWI?"
    So what sets Wilson's ad apart? They are laugh-out-loud funny, a mix of schoolboy antics (popping wheelies on a minibike), boisterous characters (pushy cop hiding a dwarf in his Breathalyzer machine) and comedic sketch show (one segment begins with pink-faced stoners gleefully playing Hungry Hungry Hippos).
    But unlike those ads, Wilson's weren't made for TV.
    "I don't air these anywhere," Wilson told CNN. "I just put these on my Facebook, and ask my friends, 'Hey, if you think this is funny, share it.' "
    Aside from eliciting laughs, the ads also serve to boost his fledgling practice, the Fort Worth native said, explaining how he didn't want his to end up like other practices whose attorneys didn't get their names out there.
    "I knew it would spread the word. I knew one of them would eventually get traction and get spread around by itself," he said.

    'We were all just laughing so hard...'

    It all began as a lark among him and his best friends from high school, who have been making funny videos since their early teens. When Wilson graduated from Texas Tech University in 2013 and started his own practice, he and his pals knew exactly how to get the word out.
    Wilson, whose peers had dubbed him the "law hawk," was voted in law school the most likely to do a TV commercial.
    "So that's part of the reason I did the first one. I gotta do this, you know?" he said. "They kind of knew about the nickname 'law hawk,' and they thought, 'Yeah, we'll use that and make a ridiculous commercial.'"
    The first attempt is mostly a string of shots of Wilson looking into the camera and yelling, "Law Hawk!"
    "We were all just laughing so hard at this, and we would show people the footage of this, and they were all laughing."
    It also included a skit where a police officer stops some young people on a "hunch" they are drunk. Wilson races to the scene, kicks a laptop out of the cop's hands, and tells the audience that no one can be arrested on a hunch.
    "Every single [ad] has, and will have a legal message that I wanted to know at one point in my life,' he said. "I can't tell you how many times I was at a party in high school and a cop starts banging on the door and everyone is looking at each other saying man, what do we do? I learned that you don't have to open the door and they can't kick the door down and little stuff like that. Man I wish I knew that (then)."
    Originally posted on his Facebook page, the commercial got more than 55,000 hits, mostly through friends sharing it with other friends. Despite its popularity, not everyone saw the humor.
    "That first one turned me into a bit of a pariah, he said, explaining the reaction of his fellow lawyers. "Everyone rolled their eyes at me. They were like, 'This guy is an idiot. He is ruining the profession.' "

    Prof had concerns

    Darby Dickerson, the dean at Texas Tech University Law School, had Wilson in one of her classes, and they discussed the first video, she said.
    "He showed me a draft before the first one was made public," she said. "I was concerned about some aspects of the first one, especially the part where he kicks a computer out of a police officer's hands. I thought that sent the wrong message about how we should treat law enforcement."
    She also concerned that the "brand" that Wilson was creating could have a negative impact on his career down the road, she said, but they talked about these issues and she "was impressed with the amount of thought and research he put into the videos."
    Ultimately. Dickerson decided his videos wouldn't have any impact on how the public views lawyers, she said.
    "My gut," she said, "is that more attorneys are upset about the ad than members of the public. Many non-lawyers I know think the ads are smart and clever, and love that an attorney can poke fun at himself in the process. They think his videos make the law accessible.
    The criticism of his first video stung, Wilson said, because he takes being a lawyer seriously. He simply wanted to get his message out in a humorous way that didn't feel like an advertisement. And, he pointed out, his commercials have been reviewed by the Texas State Bar Advertising Review panel to ensure they meet the state's ethical standards.
    So, he made a second commercial.
    "I was down but not out. I said, 'You know what? I'm going to come back even harder on the second.' "

    Dirt bikes and Lucha Libre masks

    This time, he incorporated a script, props and costumes. It opens with Wilson running down the street with an American flag before catching a fish with his bare hands and jumping from the driver's seat of a moving SUV.
    This time he posted it on YouTube, but it didn't take off.
    "The first one was kind of crazy and it did really well. And then the second one was even crazier and it didn't do as hot," Wilson said, explaining why he set up his own YouTube channel and did the third commercial,
    This time, it was dirt bikes, Mexican Lucha Libre masks, and a costume party whose attendees end up in a room with an overbearing police officer telling them they have to submit to a Breathalyzer test and that it's always 100% accurate (claims the commercials tags as untrue).
    The "Law Hawk" bursts threw a wall on his motorcycle and barks his catchphrase, "Somebody called me!"
    The third time was a charm, with the the video racking up more than 1 million hits on YouTube. It's been a huge success for his practice.
    "As soon as I wrangle this beast, get it under control, it's going to be really good for business. It already is. I have already got a lot of clients," he said.
    Dean Crutchfield, a New York-based brand consultant, said he is not surprised by the response the videos are getting.
    "This is a 'Young Turks' approach to stand out in the crowd," he said, referring to the popular online talk shows.

    'I'm going to have fun...'

    Young people such as Wilson reject the typical stuffy lawyer ads, Crutchfield said, adding that he feels Wilson is "taking a position against that and I think that is what is so appealing."
    Dickerson concurs, she said: "In this day and age, it may very well take something more like Bryan's videos to reach the audience he's trying to reach. Millennials who need a criminal-defense attorney: He knows his primary audience, and he appears to have reached them. I honestly don't think that Bryan's ads are any worse than many others I've seen over the past decade. And his are cheeky and have pizzazz."
    His next ad will come out June 2016, he said, in time for the Fourth of July.
    "I'll probably go more outrageous on each one, until I get mostly negative reactions. I am going to keep making them crazier and crazier. And I'm going to have fun while I'm doing it. It's just so much fun," he said.
    Talons of justice, indeed.