Displaying his results and branding has been key for ‘the DUI Guy’
Nearly five years into his career as a solo criminal defense practitioner in Louisville, Kentucky, Larry Forman has a well-founded claim to the name he has given himself: the DUI Guy.
The evidence is prominently displayed on his website, which features, among other things, a list of more than 250 favorable results he has gotten for clients—from penalties slashed to cases dismissed–and a video of him in court headlined, “Courtroom Nuke–5 Minute Jury NOT GUILTY Verdict.”
But how had Forman pitched himself five years ago, when he had just picked up his J.D. and hung his shingle? “The entire courthouse laughed, but I marketed myself as the DUI Guy from day one,” Forman says. His interest in DUI law dates to his days at the University of Louisville law school. Having settled on a niche early on, he saw no need to waste time establishing his place in it. “I knew that if you’re going to brand, the earlier you start the better,” he says.
That gung-ho sense of salesmanship has imbued many of the moves he has made to build his practice. “I’m a decent lawyer but I’m a brilliant marketer, if I might say so myself,” he says.
Forman carefully studies the Kentucky State Bar’s rules governing the marketing of a law practice–in order both to comply with them and find loopholes. Consider, for instance, the Kentucky Bar rule that says attorneys are not allowed to assert that they’re a specialist in any particular field. Branding himself the DUI Guy–and playing that up with such things as a caption on his homepage stating that he is “specifically trained in DUI law”–was “a hack to get around that,” Forman says. “I never use the word ‘specialize in’ or ‘specialist.’ But that is implied,” he explains. “The rules don’t say you’re not permitted to imply that you have a specialty.”
Testing the Waters on Reddit
Before he had his first client, Forman put his DUI defense skills to the test in a legal forum on the online discussion platform Reddit.
He had just finished working his way through a 1,800-page treatise on DUI law, he explains. “I felt like a god because I was loaded with all this information, but I didn’t know how to apply it in practice.” So he launched what is known on Reddit as an AMA, which stands for “ask me anything.” The invitation he posted, “I am a solo practitioner DUI lawyer, AMA,” drew 88 comments in all. A few were wisecracks but most were substantive commentary about issues such as how to handle a police stop and whether to refuse to take a breathalyzer.
“That was the first thing I did as a professional to put myself out there, open to criticism,” he says. “I had literally zero experience at that point,” having never seen a client, met with a prosecutor, or been to court. “My answers were literally from the book. But they were legit, and people more or less bought it. I don’t think I’ve gotten a single client from Reddit, honestly,” Forman says. But the discussion thread effectively displays his plainspoken knowhow, so he has kept a link to the archived AMA on his website, and he recently started another one.
That early formative experience on Reddit left Forman favorably disposed toward engagement on social media. “I always respond to comments people leave, unless it’s really dumb or a wild accusation or something,” he says.
Engaging on Social Media
The occasional unhinged commenter comes with the territory on social media, as Forman learned recently on Facebook. Some unknown person he says was never a client posted a defamatory comment that Facebook removed at Forman’s request. But the determined detractor returned, this time posting a comment that was merely derogatory. So it stayed on his Facebook page, knocking his formerly five-star rating down a notch.
Forman adroitly harnessed the power of the platform to fight back. “I appealed to the people who knew me– friends, family, former clients, lawyers. I said I need you guys to help me so my rating will go back up.” Dozens answered the call, says Forman, who called it “the most amazing experience I have ever had in that regard…. They couldn’t get me back to a 5 but they got me to 4.9,” he says. “They were all people who knew me and had something to say. If they were lawyers they would say, this guy is a great lawyer, you should hire him. That’s a legitimate, valid comment.” The tactic that succeeded in boosting his rating, he adds, was “again, by the book.”
Proactively Burnishing Credentials
Forman is unapologetically proactive about bolstering his credentials in other ways, as well. He has had a hand in generating some of the dozens of stellar reviews that clients have posted about him on his Avvo and Google listings. “We are not allowed to solicit testimonials,” he says. “All we can do is say, ‘If you wouldn’t mind, I would love it if you would leave a testimonial.’ That’s usually all you need to say.”
Forman paid up and joined the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and an array of other associations of supposedly superlative attorneys, so that he can adorn his website with their laurels. The ones that anyone can join for a fee are “a complete scam, pure and simple,” he says. “But clients don’t know that.” Besides, whether they mean anything or not, other attorneys festoon their websites with the badges, says Forman, who doesn’t hesitate to draw inspiration, and lift ideas, from competitors.
The list of case results, the courtroom video clips, and a photo of himself with the mayor are all ideas he got from other attorneys’ websites and now uses to good effect on his own, he says. “I’m not always original but it’s all about knowing what works and what doesn’t.”
Showing What You Have Done
The borrowed idea that has worked best for Forman—it is the “best secret” in his formula for success as a solo practitioner, he says—is the list of favorable outcomes he has won for clients, a list that is 250 cases long and counting. “People want to see what have you done. And every single one of those is a living, breathing client that I have done something for,” Forman says. A disclaimer on his website notes that “results vary from case to case.” But Forman’s list of success stories is irresistible to prospective clients, he says. The “frame of reference” for anyone with a similar case will be to think “maybe he can get this resolved for me, and nothing beats that.”
Video clips of Forman during triumphant moments in court hammer home the point that he wins cases for real people. He pays the court clerk $20 for videos of his successful appearances, and gives them to a videographer for editing, with some suggestions of which excerpts to highlight. In addition to the “five-minute acquittal,” another video showing highlights from a suppression hearing, replete with a dramatic soundtrack and captions, is titled, “The DUI Guy gets a Military Captain’s DUI Dismissed in Hardin County, KY.”
Top Hits on YouTube
Those videos and a wide array of others—from quirky to straitlaced—on his YouTube channel show how Forman has experimented with the medium over the years. He tested the waters of television advertising in the fall of 2015. “The idea was pitched to me at the right time,” he says. He was two years into his practice, still getting established, he had some money to put back into the practice, and New Year’s Eve was coming up. Along with Halloween and the Fourth of July, it is one of the big three holidays of the year for DUI lawyers, Forman says. “I always up my ad budget during those times, so I thought why not try it out.” The 15-second spot was filmed in November, sent to the bar for approval, and was cleared to air in time to run for about 10 days around New Years.
Forman doesn’t have a clue whether it was worth it in dollars and cents. But, he says, “It was a fun experience and I learned a lot”–about using a teleprompter, lighting, and other technical aspects of producing videos, and about video marketing in general. “And people reacted to it,” he says. “When it first started circulating, people would stop me in bars and say, Oh, you’re the DUI Guy. And I’m like, Yeah, that’s me. You become like a mini celebrity, so that’s fun.” No one knew his name “but they remembered that I’m the DUI Guy,” Forman says.
The commercial continues to rack up views on YouTube; it has gotten over 28,000 to date. Another of his promotional videos titled “Top DUI Attorney Louisville, KY,” has over 200,000 views, a result that “is a little skewed,” he says, because he paid to promote it. But a video titled “Why You Should Always Refuse the Breathalyzer and the Field Sobriety Tests,” has gained over 42,000 views, mostly on its own merits.
It started as a blog post that he published in May 2014. “It was the first thing of mine to go viral,” he says. “People started sharing it out the wazoo.” A year later, he gave a 50-minute talk on the same topic and put a video of that presentation on YouTube, which also went viral. Baffled, he asked a couple of prosecutors if they had a clue why it had taken off. “They said it’s a very enticing title: ‘Always refuse…’ And I thought, Oh my god, I didn’t even think of that,” says Forman.
“I have had clients who have hired me based on that one video,” says Forman, who put an ad on Facebook to give it an extra boost. “I probably paid a few hundred bucks over a couple of weeks, until I realized it was dying down.”
The Trouble With Facebook Advertising
Forman doubts he’ll trying advertising on Facebook again. “There’s so much stuff floating around on Facebook, with the trashy videos and cats and dogs and everything. Yours has to really pop out. It’s got to make people think, Whoa, what is this!? If it doesn’t pop out, you’re wasting your money, in my opinion,” he says.
He gets much of his business these days from word of mouth. Other clients find him on their own through Google, where he appears high in search lists, a payoff for five years of branding and content dissemination on the Internet.
Forman scoffs at lawyers who criticize him for putting out content that prospective clients might use to represent themselves. “Maybe two percent who are going to see that and say, okay I can go to court and represent myself,” he says. “What I’m doing is showing them who I am and what I can do, and how I can help them with their case.”