L.A. sees a surge of billboards for personal injury lawyers. You'll never guess why

WHITTIER, CA - DECEMBER 09: A large billboard featuring personal injury attorney James Wang is seen along the Pomona Freeway on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 in Whittier, CA. Wang, a native of Diamond Bar, has over 20 billboards throughout Los Angeles County, but starting putting masks on a few them to raise awareness of the need to mask up in the middle of a pandemic (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles has seen a surge in billboards advertising personal injury law firms. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Among the myriad side effects of the pandemic: a surge in billboards and bus ads for personal injury law firms.

They seem to have sprouted all over Los Angeles.

Morgan & Morgan’s blue-and-yellow billboards proudly declare “Size Matters,” Jacob Emrani’s ads with red cursive writing direct readers to CallJacob.com, and Pirnia Law’s silhouette designs say, “We didn’t meet by accident.” Billboards and bus ads for personal injury law firms have become a bigger part of the landscape.

Along with the entertainment industry, injury law firms dominate billboard space. According to the media intelligence company Vivvix, legal services have been among the top 10 industries featured in outdoor advertising in Los Angeles for the last decade.

Advertising experts attribute the abundance to the need to build brand awareness and market conditions brought on by the pandemic.

“There’s probably more ads for lawyers now than ever,” said Brian Alexander, an outdoor media strategist at Billboard Connection Los Angeles. “It has to be effective for these companies to continue doing it.”

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During the pandemic, Alexander said, many industries were forced to slash advertising budgets to weather the economic downturn. This meant there was more billboard space available, for a lower price.

“When the market slowed down, there was definitely an impact on billboard ad-space occupancy and rates,” Alexander said. “The lawyers found opportunities in ad space that wasn't available before.”

During the pandemic, personal injury lawyer James Wang was pictured wearing a mask on billboards around Los Angeles.

Wayne Cohen, founder of Cohen Injury Law Group, said injury lawyers are not immune to worsening economic conditions. The pandemic resulted in fewer car accidents, fewer in-person workplace accidents and a significant slowdown in courtrooms. But as the cost of ad space decreased, lawyers were able to take advantage, Cohen said.

But other factors, like a need to build name recognition, contribute to the trend too.

“I do get calls from law firms that say, 'We want to be like Jacob Emrani or Sweet James,'” Alexander said. “They all want to be the next big thing. They see their competitors, and they want to be up there.”

Indeed, billboards can help develop a legal brand.

“Law straddles between a service and a business,” said Cohen, who has been in the industry for 30 years and specializes in car accidents. “It's kind of in-between. There's the trade of the practice of law, and then there's the business of it, which is getting cases in the door.”

Lawyers have to consider the “acquisition cost per case,” Cohen said, meaning the amount it costs to get a case in the door relative to its value. Small law firms may spend a few thousand dollars a month on advertising, according to Cohen, while larger firms might spend more than $1 million.

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Outdoor advertising, also known as out-of-home advertising, delivers approximately 7.1 billion impressions — or occasions when a user sees it — per week in the Los Angeles market, according to the Out of Home Advertising Assn. of America.

Data provided by the association show that almost two-thirds of consumers recently recalled seeing a legal services outdoor ad, and more than 40% who saw a legal services ad engaged in some way, like talking about it with friends.

The cost of billboards varies widely depending on size and location. A full-size billboard in Los Angeles is roughly $5,000 to $10,000 per four-week period, Alexander said. On the Sunset Strip near Hollywood, the highest-demand area for outdoor advertising, a full-size billboard could cost $80,000 to $100,000 for four weeks.

As the market recovered from the pandemic at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023, the billboard industry began to boom again, Alexander said. Personal injury law firms represented a large portion of this expansion.

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“The billboard market was recovering and not only recovering but thriving and reaching new heights,” Alexander said.

Cohen, whose firm doesn’t purchase billboard space, said clients must do their due diligence before selecting a lawyer.

“You only have one shot at getting it right,” he said.

Having lots of billboard ads doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the lawyer.

“There has to be a return on investment on the advertising, or the lawyers wouldn't do it,” Cohen said. “Does that mean that the lawyers who are the best advertisers are the best lawyers, the best advocates for their clients’ rights? I don't even know if there's a correlation there.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.