In less than two years these lawyers built the largest criminal defense practice in the county.
In the summer of 2012, Benjaman Adams decided to leave his job as a public defender in Alaska and with his law school classmate start a law firm in the wine country north of San Francisco. In less than two years, Adams Fietz http://www.adamsfietz.com has become the largest criminal defense firm in the county, with four lawyers and three staff members.
Adams credits a succession of very creative – and in some cases controversial — marketing ploys for putting the firm prominently on the map in Sonoma County in such short order. The most effective and controversial stunt, he says, was undoubtedly the scrolling ad truck.
Old-Timers Hated the Truck But It Worked
Some businesses rent ad trucks, with a large message board on back, to show their flag at large public gatherings or for other special occasions. Adams Feitz had something more audacious in mind. “We bought the truck and it was my daily driver for a year and a half,” says Adams. “I left my personal vehicle at home and I drove that truck everywhere: to my office, to Safeway, to the bank, it didn’t matter. We parked it at the court. We would park it down by the jail.”
The signboard on back, which lit up at night, was programmed with nine different messages, which could be set to change at regular intervals or to stick with one ad, if one was best suited for a particular location. The slogan “Jail Sucks,” displayed along with the firm’s name and phone number, was the eyebrow-raising message that Adams favored when he parked the truck while visiting clients at the county jail. Another ad that he says was “very popular” in a county known for its locally grown marijuana declared, “You see a garden, the state sees a felony.” Yet another attention-getter featured the stark image of a chair under a harsh light with the caption, “Arrested? Say nothing. Get a lawyer. Call 707-999-9999.”
The scrolling ad truck “was definitely the biggest thing that got us noticed,” said Adams. “I went from a nobody, a public defender in Alaska, to someone who everybody knew. They may not have known my name yet but they knew I was ‘the guy with the truck.’ Within six or nine months, maybe even less, everybody in the criminal justice system — the defense bar, the DAs, the judges, the cops, everybody — knew who Adams Fietz was. That was a huge boost for us in terms of top of mind awareness.”
There was a downside, to be sure. “Not everybody liked the ad truck. Some people were furious about it,” Adams concedes. “Younger lawyers thought it was great, but many of the old guard just despised it, and they went out of their way to tell us that.” Those attorneys “have never referred a single case to us anyway,” Adams adds. In any event, the truck “worked incredibly well in terms of what we were trying to accomplish, and that is, getting people to notice us and to know who we were.”
Costly Phone Number Was Another ‘Brilliant’ Move
The ad truck not only made a name for Adam Fietz, it made the firm’s phone ring, in part because of another bold marketing decision made early on: to pay whatever it took to get an unforgettable phone number, 999-9999.
“In terms of marketing, that was one of our biggest strokes of genius, quite frankly,” says Adams. “Everybody else has a number like 545-6859 or something like that. Who can remember that? Nobody else in town has a number like ours.”
Getting the number was “a total fluke,” says Adams, who explains that he happened to peruse before trashing a junk email he received when he was still in Alaska. It was from a company that sold phone numbers suitable for legal entities. “That one was available. I called them up and we had to negotiate for it. It cost us a lot of money: $25,000. But everybody in town knows it. And no matter how drunk you are, no matter what happens, you can’t forget it.”
He adds, “It has a lot of value now, and as the population of northern California grows over the next 10 to 20 years, it will have even more value. At some point, we could sell that number, presumably for more than we paid for it. So we treat it both as a marketing tool and as an investment.”
Website and Radio Show Portray Firm’s Lawyers as ‘Fighters’
Adam Fietz’s admittedly aggressive marketing tactics match a well crafted image of the firm as a team of fighters for their clients. That image is conveyed in the slogan prominently displayed on the firm website’s homepage. “Don’t go into battle alone,” it says, referring to the firm’s practice of bringing all four lawyers into a case, if necessary. The firm’s Facebook page describes Adams Fietz as a “team of battle-hardened lawyers” and vows that “your fight is our fight, and we fight to win.” Lawyers with the firm are “unwilling to settle for anything less than what our clients deserve,” and are ready and eager to take cases to trial, if a good deal can’t be reached, the web site declares.
Adams, and his co-founding partner, Jeremy Fietz, a personal injury attorney with many big verdicts and settlements under his belt, strike a similar stance on a weekly drive-time radio show they do on an AM station in Santa Rosa, the county seat. The weekly half-hour program that airs every Monday during the evening rush hour is called “Lawyers, Guns and Money.”
Adams says he and Fietz met the host through a mutual acquaintance. “He liked the way that we sounded. So we tried a few shows, and it turned out to be extremely popular,” says Adams, who describes himself as “very libertarian” and says he “can’t stand the government.” Adams and Fietz do no preparation at all for the shows. The chitchat ranges from their family vacations to the latest news from North Korea, but Adams says he always works in one of his trademark “rants” in which he “rails against governmental power and the militarization of the police and the war on drugs and all of those things. Most people in Sonoma County don’t share my politics but people like the show because we talk about things that matter in an intelligent way. So it just ballooned. It is hugely popular now.”
Not every lawyer could adeptly handle a regular stint on talk radio, adds Adams. “If you are doing wills and trusts and you spend your time behind a desk and you are not used to arguing with people and making a point forcefully, it is probably not going to work for you. But we are both outspoken trial lawyers, and we don’t mind getting in people’s faces with our points of view. For us, it has worked amazingly well,” he says. “It does not bring us a huge amount of business, but it brings us enough to make it very worth doing.”
Regular Guys on Facebook
While portraying themselves as fighters in court, the attorneys of Adams Fietz use social media and appearances around town to show that they are also regular guys who you’d like to have a beer with. “We try to show that we are not only good lawyers but we well-rounded people,” Adams explains. To do that, attorneys with the firm regularly post on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/adamsfietztriallawyers touting their most recent victories but also showing that they have lives outside the law and that they enjoy happy hours, barbeques and local festivals.
“We always go to Cinco de Mayo and other big events,” says Adams. “We always have a booth and a banner and we talk to people. That’s pretty big. There are a few other lawyers in town who do that, but not many. We are at every event. When people meet us, they are usually surprised by how down-to-earth we are. They say, you’re not like lawyers, you are not stuffy. That is one of our greatest strengths.”
There They Are Again, on Cocktail Napkins
They have used another marketing gimmick to distinguish themselves from stuffier members of the local bar: cocktail napkins printed with the firm’s name and phone number that are used at a popular local pub. That “doesn’t cost us anything” other than the cost of the napkins, says Adams, who notes that the bar owner is one of Fietz’s friends. “It hasn’t led to any business that we are aware of. But it is something that people have posted about on Facebook and that people talk about.”
Adams adds, “You go down and get a beer or a burger and there is ‘Adams Fietz,’ yet again. And you just saw their truck roll by, and you heard them on the radio. All of those things are constantly reminding people about our firm. We have found that that is the key to creating, again, top of mind awareness. And it works.”
Dialing Back the Aggressive Marketing Tactics
Now that Adams Fietz has succeeded beyond expectations in making a name for itself in Sonoma County, Adams says the firm has decided to dial back on some of its most aggressive advertising tactics, starting with the ad truck.
“It has moved onto greener pastures,” says Adams. “We came to the decision as a firm that it had accomplished its goal of creating top of mind awareness, and we were making some direct money from it, and so we decided the time had come to shift away from the truck.” Older lawyers in town “continued to resent it,” Adams says. “A lot of them are going to be retiring soon, and we thought that in order to cultivate relationships with them, maybe we should do away with the truck.”
Not that they intend to apologize to any for it. To the contrary, “It was certainly something that we enjoyed doing,” says Adams. “There is no question in my mind that all that time and money and energy we put in at the very beginning to be creative with our marketing paid off.”