Marketing key in making Glen Lerner a celebrity attorney
Glen Lerner commercial
- The heavenly hitter (6-12-08)
Close your eyes. Imagine Glen Lerner’s jingle. You can dial his number from memory, can’t you? In this age of speed dialing and cellphone-programmed contacts, how many telephone numbers can you remember? So the question has to be asked: Is Glen Lerner the most recognizable personality in Las Vegas?
The 47-year-old Las Vegas personal injury lawyer has used his marketing savvy to turn a larger-than-life personality into a multimillion-dollar enterprise that has expanded into Arizona.
Much like a singer who has a No. 1 song, Lerner didn’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder and wondered whether what worked in Las Vegas would work elsewhere. Lerner is opening offices in Providence, Chicago, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque to see whether his regular-guy-who’s-an-attorney personality could be successful there, too.
Even his business card is nothing like other attorneys’: Doing his now-classic “Mr. Universe pose” and saying how his firm crushes the competition, Lerner doesn’t come across as your typical anything, let alone a highly compensated attorney in full flight.
How many attorneys in town wear worn jeans, cowboy boots and a muscle-revealing shirt to the office? This Boston native’s look—with his unmistakable, distinguishable Red Sox-loving accent—seems more at home on Muscle Beach than the Strip.
In person, Lerner is soft-spoken and appears at peace with himself. But ask him about television advertising, and the larger-than-life character on the flat screen comes to life. This Duke University religion major has recently become deeply religious and isn’t afraid to show it—he proudly displays a cross around his large neck—or talk about it. Lerner, a father of four, says his faith has genuinely transformed him and his family. VEGAS INC sat down for this interview with the city’s most recognizable attorney.
Tell us, how do you feel about being one of the most well-known people in the city?
People tell me I’m a celebrity and I say ‘no, no, no’. I pay for it so I’m a quasi-celebrity. That’s amazing what marketing can do. A couple of guys spend nearly the same amount I do, yet, I dominate the market because of my persona. I come off differently on TV than the other guys. I don’t come across as your average lawyer, and I think that allows me to do so well here. I’ve been very blessed. I’m the largest in the state of Arizona, as well.
Why don’t you come across as the typical lawyer?
There’s approachability about me. I think I come across as a regular guy. I don’t do commercials in front of a bunch of law books. My voice has a distinctive accent. The model has worked well for me.
When did you start advertising in Las Vegas?
I started advertising for Glen J. Lerner & Associates with “One Call, That’s All” in 1998. I started out spending $10,000 a month, and the response was amazing. For nine years, I used media companies and now I do my own production and own buys. My buddy helps me with all the buys and produces the commercials with me. We bounce ideas off one another. He writes them up and I’ll cross them out, and we go ad-lib when we shoot and have fun.
How did you get into personal injury law?
When I was looking at the areas of law to practice—from criminal and domestic and lot of custody stuff and bankruptcy—every time I did a personal injury case, my profit per hour was significantly higher than the others. I realized it was a much better business model.
What do you charge?
When we do commercial litigation, I think a couple of guys go $450 an hour and one guy goes $550 an hour. Everything else is contingency. One third up to filing a lawsuit and 40 percent after that (for personal injury). If it’s slip and fall, it’s 40 percent and then 50 percent because the liability issues are much greater.
Did you ever envision that you would become a quasi-celebrity as a personal injury lawyer?
I’m certainly one of the ten biggest in the country at what I do and going up the ladder. I see myself in next couple of years being one of the two or three biggest in the country. I’m good at what I do. That’s the one thing that people say, ‘Oh, he’s just a big mill and represents hundreds of people a month and settles.’ I’m about the only person in town who just doesn’t settle. We had 16 cases last year in which we settled or got a verdict in excess of $1 million. You ask any other firm in town if they did that. No one else did. We develop a lot of cases where people would have just settled the case for a small amount. We fight the insurance company and get people amazing results. I don’t want the small amount. I want the big amount, but sometimes the case is what it is. If it’s a small case, great, get it resolved and move on, but if there’s more there, we’re going to fight you tooth and nail.
Are most of your cases traffic accidents?
Yes, but we get a lot of slips and falls, too. It’s hard to establish liability. Unfortunately there’s some fraud in that area. It’s amazing. You may get someone who says ‘I stepped on these grapes in this store,’ and they’ll have surveillance of this person looking around and putting grapes on the floor. I’m amazed with what people will do. The second you find that out, ‘see ya.’ You always want to show credibility with insurance companies. You aren’t going to put up with any scams.
But a majority are traffic accidents?
About 90 to 95 percent of them.
I do a lot of class-action stuff around the country—drug recalls, knee replacements, hip replacements. We also do a lot of commercial law. I have three to four full-time commercial lawyers in my office, and we represent some of the largest developers in Las Vegas.
How many employees do you have here?
About 60 in this office.
What is the volume of work?
Between our claims and litigation, our clients have been averaging $60 to $70 million a year from settlement and verdicts.
You’ve been very successful.
I’ve been very blessed that I have done well, and I really don’t need to do anything else. But, I always have to do something. I’m involved in so many different businesses. Sometimes, you ask yourself why. I kind of retired four years ago, but I got bored. I’m one of those people. That’s how I’m wired.
What are some of the businesses?
I hooked up with a beauty company owned by a hedge fund, and we’re starting to take off. I have a little dog food company called dogslovecookies.com.
I’m invested in oil and gas technology. I’m the investor in a lot of these businesses. I’m the guy with the money and now I don’t have a lot of money. I have a lot of investments (laughing).
Why do you do that?
I think I like putting a lot of pressure on myself sometimes to see if your hunch is correct. I could have been satisfied with Vegas. Very few guys across the country have the type of practice I do here with a single owner that does as well as I do and, yet, I put it all on the line. I spent $8 million starting my Arizona practice, and it took a long time for it to turn around. After four-and-a-half years, we took over the market in Arizona. We were going after the largest advertiser in the United States: Phillips & Associates—a guy spending $12 million a year and we took over the market spending $2.5 million. Did I need to do it? No. But, I think, for me, I needed to prove to myself I wasn’t a one-hit wonder.
What’s the main idea behind your ads?
You certainly want people to know you handle car accidents. We say a lot of the key words that if you’re in a “wreck and need a check”. But you try to let your personality come out and have fun with it.
Why do you poke fun at yourself in your ads?
People like self-effacing humor like the ambulance chasing commercial. Here’s the problem with attorneys. They see themselves as better than other people. We’re the only profession that calls the normal person by a different name. We’re attorneys and you’re lay people. A lot of attorneys, judges and prosecutors called me and said they love that commercial. They got it. It’s self effacing. What you’re trying to do is say ‘hey’ to the public, I can poke fun at myself. I got calls from some attorneys that said ‘you set back our profession 20 years’. They just don’t get it. They see themselves as these shiny knights, meanwhile they’re cheating people out of money. They’re just idiots.
What about your Super Glen character?
We do a lot of those commercials on the kids' networks. One of the things we’ve done that very few people have realized is generational marketing. I created such a fan base—and it’s weird to say a fan base—with all these kids who know my number before their own phone number, and they tell their mom or dad to go to me if they're in an accident. They all want to meet me, and I'm the coolest guy ever to them. It’s just bizarre, but it’s an amazing thing. We advertise the Super Glen Lerner commercials on Disney and the Cartoon Network because when these kids get older, they’re indoctrinated into the fact there’s going to be no other choice when they get older. 'I'm calling Glen Lerner. He's just a regular guy I've grown up with.'
You really like marketing, don’t you?
I love marketing. Why did I become me and all the other guys spending the same as me aren’t me? What makes people call my number? What makes people call the Tidy Bowl man? What makes people call one product or service over another? I’m really intrigued by that. That’s why I bought an advertising company.
Who are your competitors?
I have three main competitors in this market. Adam Kutner, Chad Golightly and Ed Bernstein. You put me next to the three of them and who’s going to stand out? I have this big personality that pops out at you, and none of these guys pops out at you. Ed’s commercials are the best. I like his black and white commercials.
How much a year do you spend here in advertising?
Probably about $3 million a year in Las Vegas. Maybe a little less than two thirds on TV. I do billboards and lot of radio now and other stuff.
How much was your Super Bowl ad?
I couldn’t tell you. You never worry about how much it costs. You have one shot to make a first impression. It is worth it. It’s how many other spots you get from the station. For example, in Phoenix I didn’t run it because they wanted $65,000 for the spot, but I wanted ten prime time spots and wanted to be on CSI and this and that. So if they give you $65,000 worth of other stuff, I’ll do that. That pays for itself but $65,000 by itself without any bonuses makes no sense. That’s bad business. I try not to advertise too much on prime time TV. The vast majority of my advertising is on daytime TV.
Why is that?
You pay too much for prime time, especially if you’re targeting a specific show. Why would you spend $3,000 or $4,000 on CSI if you can be on Jerry Springer 70 to 80 times? The only thing that matters is cost per impression. I’m in a business where I’m not targeting anyone specifically. What I do could happen to anybody. Were you in an accident? It’s not based on race, creed, color, finances. The majority of my clients are middle-class or lower-middle-class people who don’t have an everyday attorney.
What about attorneys and others critical of advertising you do?
That’s what advertising’s for. Those against attorneys advertising don’t realize this isn’t Main Street anymore. They don’t have their dad’s attorney back in the old days. People move here from all over the country. If something bad happens, they don’t know where to turn. If they see these guys on TV, they can make a choice based on that. If they don’t like our ads, they don’t have to call us.
How often do you shoot new commercials?
I probably shoot about three to four times a year. We’ll do eight to ten spots at a time. I try to run 15 to 20 new commercials a year so people don’t get bored. I look at my competitors. Adam Kutner was using the same commercial since my son was born and he’s ten years old now. He just switched to a new commercial and when you do that people are, like, ‘all right, this man hasn’t aged gracefully.’ They see you at 35 and then at 45. They see me get older. The only difference in me is my hairdo. I had short hair and long hair and now I’m back to short hair.
Have your commercials changed?
I have probably shot several hundred commercials over the years. It’s the same language in all of them. This is a wreck and if you need a check, we get you all the money you deserve. The truth is: The insurance companies don’t treat people fairly. You couldn’t imagine how insurance companies would treat people unless I did what I did.
What about others’ commercials?
I’ve seen guys who I think have good stuff. I try to look at every major guy in a market before I go in there and see how this guy compares to me. Do I think I can beat this guy? You know what, I can go in anywhere. I’m going to crush them. You have to feel that way and be confident in your abilities. I know what my personality is. I just have a certain personality that most lawyers don’t have. I’m what you see. Everybody knows that. I’m as real as they come. I’m a real dude and it comes across on TV. I don’t seem like a lawyer on TV. I have a big smile. I’m a big dude. I’ve always been this thick big dude and not this skinny scrawny lawyer. For whatever reason, people like me. I’m just a regular guy. I grew up with nothing. I grew up on welfare with a dad in jail for 19 years, and I’ve done well for myself without ever screwing anybody. My word is my bond and God has blessed me abundantly.
When people come in, do they always want to talk with Glen Lerner?
If I’m in the building, I love meeting clients. I know when I meet someone, that’s my client for life. I walk in and joke around with them. You don’t forget me. A friend told me, ‘Glen, you’re one of those few people in life that it doesn’t matter who it is, if somebody has met you, they ain’t ever going to forget you.’ I asked him if that was good or bad. He said in most instances that’s good. I’m a charismatic guy. My daddy was a charismatic guy and my grandfather’s a charismatic guy and my son’s the most charismatic kid you’ll meet in your life, for a ten-year-old. We have these personalities that know how to mesh with people. I’m not always the nicest guy. I’m great to everybody in the world, but sometimes, you’re not that great to people closest to you.
Did you think this would be your career?
It’s funny. When I was in law school, one of the biggest guys in the country went by the name of Morris Bart in New Orleans. I used to see him on TV when I was in law school at Tulane. I said I’d never do that. What a scumbag. I wanted to be a corporate lawyer or whatever I was going to do. I met Morris when I started to make my commercials in 1998, I told him that story and now I’m here with him making commercials. It’s kind of funny.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I have a lot of people who work for me. I’m a very good delegator. It gives me time to work on other things. I spend a lot of time with my family and I get to travel a lot. I’m very blessed. I’m a Jew who gave himself to Christ five years ago. If I wasn’t doing this I’d feel a strong calling to evangelize. It’s kind of funny because I could speak in front of 100,000 people. It’s just my nature.
How did you make that transformation?
God, in his abundant grace, saw that I was a mess. I had all this stuff in the world, but I wasn’t happy. I was a mad man. I messed up my life and marriage, and one day I opened up my Bible and started reading. I was a religion major at Duke University. The words started to pierce my heart. I’m truly a changed man.
Whatever guys do. When guys have power and money, we see it every day. I wasn’t into drugs. I wasn’t into alcohol. I had an adulterous heart. Through my wife’s faith, I was sanctified. It’s not easy. We actually left Vegas four years ago. I live in Arizona now, and I commute back and forth. I’m lucky. I have great people here I can delegate a lot of things.
Why did you move?
I love this city. It’s been good to me, and I can never say anything bad about it. But I don’t like being here. You can feel there’s an energy here that’s different from other places. When you’re away from it, can you feel it.
What do you mean?
It’s not like I ran from Vegas. I didn’t want to raise my children in Vegas anymore. When you drive around Vegas, you’re so much more cognizant of the billboards. Forget about the stupid lawyer billboards. Think of all the billboards of all the women kissing women or the way their bodies are entwined. There’s no other place in the world where that happens. It’s not what you want your children growing up to. We want our children to have a strong foundation of what God has done for them, and it’s working out well. It doesn’t mean you can’t have Godly families here. You can, but it’s much more difficult.
What would your worst enemies say about you?
That my arms are too large for a human being (laughing). I don’t know that I have any enemies. I don’t do anything wrong to anybody. Are people envious of me? Jealous of me? Our numbers speak for themselves. There’s nobody that does what we do. You can ask any doctor and a lot of the judges. People know we do a good job here. Whenever you’re the king of the mountain, people are going to try and tear you down. I don’t worry about that.
What does the legal community here think of you?
People who know me well know I’m good at what I do. People that don’t know me well hope that I’m not good at what I do, so it’s an excuse for them. I’m as good as anybody in the country taking a personal injury case and getting people the maximum amount of their recovery.
But you have detractors?
Not everybody likes me. I’m not going to get every single person out there watching at home on TV. I’m approachable. I look like a good guy. I’m a big dude. I have a nice way about me. Some people just think my commercials belittle the profession. He doesn’t seem serious or he’s probably not good at what he does. Good. Call the other guy. I can’t get everybody. I’m not a greedy guy. There’s more than enough of the pie. I never thought I’d be where I’m at. Obviously, I want to do better and better but I realize I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I’d be foolish to think I am. You can’t get false hopes in love with yourself. Then, you think everybody is going to love you, too.