How many lawyers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? That’s the joke behind a new marketing video from the Minneapolis law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis. But is the joke on the firm?

Here’s the set-up: In an office-building lobby, a maintenance worker uses a pole to reach into a ceiling fixture and unscrew a presumably blown-out lightbulb. As he removes it, a group of five lawyers enters the lobby. One, talking on his mobile phone as he eyes the worker, says, “Wait a second, I got to take care of something right now.” With that, he reaches into his briefcase, pulls out a replacement bulb and takes the pole from the worker. Then, all five lawyers grab the pole and walk in unison in a circle, collectively screwing in the bulb. As they do, the words appear, “Team vs. Individual,” followed by, “We work together, so we win together.”

Yes, collaboration is a good thing. But not a good thing, at least in the eyes of the clients who pay the bills, is redundancy.

I understand that this video is tongue-in-cheek. According to an email I received, it represents “the latest in a long string of innovative marketing campaigns laced with subtle humor and the firm’s willingness to poke fun at itself.”

I like humor. Really I do. But even if the firm’s intent was to poke fun at itself, at what cost? Is the predominant message here a positive one? Isn’t the message, “Our firm will use five people to do the work of one”? The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t and shouldn’t take five lawyers to change a light bulb. If that’s how many lawyers you use to change a light bulb, how many are you going to send to a deposition?

Not to mention, the poor worker whose job it was to change the bulb appeared to be handling it just fine until the lawyers took it over. So the secondary message is, “We grab control without being asked of things that aren’t our business in the first place.”

I feel bad when a legal marketer brings something to my attention with obvious pride in what they’ve done, only to find myself disagreeing. To me, this video is funny only until you stop to think about it–or perhaps I should say, until a potential client stops to think about it.

Ah, but this post is not all sour grapes. The video was produced as part of a broader relaunch of the firm’s website and messaging. Here, the firm has succeeded. I have not gone back and looked at the firm’s former website, but its new site is nicely designed with strong messaging, simple navigation and good writing. I would rethink the video if I were them, but the website is a keeper.

Am I wrong about this video? What do you think?

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.