Business of Law
Some lawyers find religion a righteous marketing tool
Posted Aug 1, 2008 7:50 AM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward
Attorney W. Mark Lanier hopes that people who visit his website will see him as a talented trial lawyer who is considered one of the best among his peers. And if they decide to attend his Sunday school classes, that’s OK with him too.
Among the mentions on his firm site are the numerous mass tort cases that he handles, the multimillion-dollar settlements or verdicts he has won for clients and the Bible literacy classes, with a link, that he teaches at Champion Forest Baptist Church. The community page also mentions the Christian Trial Lawyers Association, which Lanier founded. Both his firm’s website and the association’s site mention Lanier’s faith and his profession.
“There are a lot of people who visit the website that has my teaching on it, so there’s crossover to my law firm site and vice versa,” says Lanier of Houston. “For me, religion is not an offensive thing and it’s not an exclusive club.”
Many lawyers may agree, but it seems that Lanier’s approach is unique. Promoting faith might attract potential clients, some say, but what if it pushes others away?
Lanier says that religion is part of who he is, which his business webpage tries to portray. “I’ve tried cases all over the country,” he says. “I think for some it’s probably helpful [to get their business] but you just never know. For some, it might be really disgusting.”
Lanier didn’t say that sharing his faith—and perhaps attracting others to it—is part of his religion, but that is true for some, says D. Don Welch, who is a professor and associate dean at Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, Tenn.
Also, mentioning your faith could be a sort of screening process for lawyers.
“I think clearly the intention in using that is not simply to profess their faith, but also to attract the kinds of clients they would prefer to work with,” says Welch, who also teaches graduate classes in the university’s department of religion.
“My guess is there may be attorneys who have defined a niche market, where they might decide that this is useful,” Welch adds.
LOOKING OUT FOR NO. 1
Michael Shein, a criminal defense lawyer whose webpage includes a Hebrew icon that reads “It’s God’s will,” doesn’t know whether the phrase’s placement gets him business.
“But I do know that if I make God happy, I’ll get clients,” says Shein, who practices in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A self-described “observant Jewish person,” Shein became more religious after a rabbi used his office for a prayer group. Today Shein regularly wears a yarmulke, and he grew out his facial hair in accordance with his beliefs. Shein says he’s not trying to convert people to his religion, and he represents clients from a variety of faiths.
“It’s against Jewish law to try and make someone be Jewish,” he says. “But I do believe that I’m supposed to be a promoter for God and let the whole world know that they do have certain rules they have to adhere to, no matter what religion they are.”
He also lets potential clients know that he doesn’t work on the Jewish Sabbath, from sundown Friday to Saturday evening. “I don’t think a client has ever been turned off by this,” Shein says.
For Lanier, he’s unsure whether the religious references help or hurt his business.
“I am who I am,” he says. “I’ll take cases that have merit, where clients want me. I’m not out for only the Christian clients; I’m out for somebody who needs my help. I’m going to try to help them, if it’s a good opportunity for them and us.”