I'm quite confident that almost every state Bar association has some restrictions on celebrity endorsements for lawyer advertising and legal marketing. Most of the Bar rules are in place to level the playing field and protect clients from unethical legal marketing tactics.
What IS a Celebrity and Why Does Anyone Care?
As long as there have been talented, unique people in our population, there have been celebrities. Basically, anyone who gains public notoriety, whether bad or good, becomes a celebrity for even a brief moment (especially now with the Internet).
We care about celebrities because they're different from us, which can make their lives and achievements interesting. Long-standing celebrities such as many artists, actors, and political figures often have a profound impact on our lives. It's attributes like this that make us want to listen to them and follow what they're doing.
Advertisers learned long ago that celebrity endorsement was a great idea. People love and trust their celebrities, and they're way more willing to listen to a familiar face than some random stranger when it comes to buying a new product or service. That's the basic principle of word-of-mouth legal marketing, only this time the mouth is that of a celebrity - someone you feel you know just because they're in the public eye so much.
"I Couldn't Afford a Celebrity Even if the Bar Let Me!"
Consider how we defined a celebrity. It's someone who is in the public eye and has gained notoriety among the population. A national celebrity is someone like a famous actor or musician, but you being a local attorney, can put local celebrities to work for your legal marketing.
The mayor of your town is a local celebrity because almost every resident (should) know them. In small towns, the local family doctor may also be a good figure of trust and respect to get involved with. Prominent public figures such as businessmen, police chiefs, firefighters, and anyone else the local people feel connected to are fodder for your lawyer advertising ideas.
Ethical Use of Celebrities
Even though you're using local celebrities, who wouldn't really fit under Bar regulations as a "celebrity endorsement" in your legal marketing, you'd most likely catch some trouble if you randomly had the mayor say he/she recommends your law firm (unless they're a past client).
There are ways to endorse your law practice with a celebrity - even a really famous one - without getting in trouble. One of the best legal marketing tactics I've seen is piggyback on the celebrity's already newsworthy actions.
For my family law friends out there, how many times have you seen those high-profile celebrity divorce cases in the news? Why not do a blog post discussing actor so-and-so's latest breakup and divorce case? Show your clients that they're no different from celebrities - everyone has the potential to need a divorce attorney at some point.
When In Doubt, Become Your Own Celebrity
No, I'm not suggesting you find your 15-minutes of Internet fame with a silly YouTube video. I'm suggesting you become that pillar of trust and advice within your community. Use your niche legal marketing to create a unique identity within your community and establish yourself as the guru for all things legal.
Before the days of ugly lawyer advertising, the local attorney was a figure of trust, authority, and respect in the community. In small towns, the lawyer was the person you went to with all sorts of serious legal matters, even if that legal issue wasn't their specific practice area. As legal practices evolved and branched out into niche practices, we lost a lot of that authority because there were so many of us. Add that to the bad lawyer advertising, and we've got some rebounding to do.
You can be the lawyer that rebounds through your legal marketing. Get out into your community and show that you're a successful, competent attorney who not only does great legal work but is also concerned with the local goings-on. You won't have to look to tag onto a celebrity people trust because you will BE that celebrity!