Posted Mar 10, 2014 11:45 am CDT
Need a criminal defense lawyer? Then you should hire a lawyer who thinks like a criminal, according to a YouTube video by Pittsburgh attorney Daniel Muessig.
The video features Muessig’s friends playing the part of criminals grateful for the lawyer’s services and portrays Muessig as a lawyer who truly understands his clients.
Muessig, 32, tells the ABA Journal he created the video to reach younger clients who tend to communicate with each other by trading humor on the Internet. The younger crowd—those under 40—“just ping pong back and forth funny content to each other,” he says. The ad has gotten attention on Deadspin, Above the Law and Slate.
The video begins with a series of scenes in which criminals leaving the courthouse or practicing their trade raise their thumbs and say: “Thanks, Dan.” Then Muessig appears with a neon sign flashing, “Real Defense Attorney.”
“Consequences,” he says. “They sure suck, don’t they? America was built on freedom, not on a bunch of people with more money than you telling you what you can and can’t do with all their stupid laws. Laws are arbitrary.” As he says “laws,” Muessig makes quotation marks with his fingers.
Muessig goes on to say that he stands willing, ready and able to defend his viewers on all manner of criminal charges. “You need a lawyer who understands you and understands where you’re coming from,” Muessig says. “Trust me, I may have a law degree, but I think like a criminal. Street knowledge.”
Other criminal defense lawyers will take your money and then “blow you off,” he says. That’s not Muessig. He picks up the phone and makes jail visits “because I’ll probably be there visiting my friends anyways.” He adds that “any criminal defense attorney who promises you a result is most likely a liar or a scumbag. What I can promise you is my committed, fighting effort.”
“Did I mention I’m Jewish?” Muessig adds, as he spins a dreidel. The video ends with a disclaimer saying it is a satire and the people portrayed are actors.
Before he attended law school at the University of Pittsburgh, Muessig says he made his living for a few years making rap appearances, much like a jazz artist in the 1950s. His brand of rap, he says, is in the “avant-garde experimental underground genre.” Muessig says his rap experience brought him into contact with “a wider, more diverse group of people,” though he also knew kids from different backgrounds at public high school in Pittsburgh.
Does Muessig really think like a criminal? Muessig says he has more empathy for criminals because he does know people who have had problems with the law. The empathy, he says, helps him connect with clients and given them a better level of service.
The people portraying criminals in the video are friends and one is a relative, Muessig says. The man with the braided pigtails is Muessig’s cousin, the two men playing burglars work security for rapper Wiz Khalifa, and the older man with long hair is Muessig’s neighbor.
Muessig has been practicing law for about a year and a half. His practice was sidelined for a while because of a rupture related to diverticulitis about a week after his wedding. His weight dropped nearly 120 pounds, and he has now taken up running. He works for lawyer Patrick Nightingale, and will sit second chair for his boss in an upcoming murder trial.
Muessig says his inspiration for the video is a little bit of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, a little bit of Martin Scorsese, a little bit of Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad, and a little bit hip-hop culture.
So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive, Muessig says. Most people, lawyers included, think the video is funny, though “there are some people who are obviously upset about it.”
“Ultimately my goal is the highest aim of the bar, which is to help people,” Muessig tells the ABA Journal. “I understand that the way I did it is unconventional, but I have helped a lot of people in the brief amount of time I have been a criminal defense attorney.”