Herman: When lawyers advertise

I like lawyer ads. Years ago, I particularly liked the TV ad on which a local lawyer said something like this: “Under the State Bar’s canon of ethics, I’m not allowed to tell you about the many multimillion-dollar judgments I’ve won for my clients.” Wow, he’s good and he’s ethical. What’s not to like?

And I like that Houston lawyer Eric Dick has a Bastrop billboard that seeks to help folks with smoke and fire claims. “Need a Lawyer?” it says. “Hire a Dick!”

(I know what you’re thinking. You’re wrong. Not all of them are. I checked. Some have other last names.)

The State Bar folks, stodgy old free-speech-hating killjoys that they are, have rules about what lawyers can and can’t say on ads. Attorneys can’t use “misleading” names. Oddly, the rules say lawyers can “if otherwise lawful” use ads that include “the name or names of one or more deceased or retired members of the firm.” Looks like the Austin law firm of Granger and Mueller is among those that does that. If you call, you can speak with the latter but not with the former. On the firm’s office on West 10th Street, the sign says “Ned Granger (1934-2002).”

Best I can tell, the Bar does not bar Bar members from claiming to be “the attorney that rocks.” That’s good for Austin lawyer David Komie, whose striking billboards claim that’s exactly who he is. Komie rocks because he plays in two bands: Mud Doctors (“pretty hard rock”) and Dharma Kings (“a little more bluesy and psychedelic”). And he is an attorney because tennis didn’t work out, twice.

Komie, 50, is a South Florida native who went to Samford University in Alabama on a tennis scholarship. Alabama, it turns out, “wasn’t a good fit for me.” Komie transferred to Florida Atlantic University — a fine school that also has produced such intellectual heavyweights as myself — to play tennis, go to class and enjoy the magic that is Boca Raton.

“The Ivy League of the beach,” Komie, class of ’85 (“should’ve been ’84 but I hung around”) said of our beloved alma mater.

Komie’s website offers this synopsis of the first time tennis didn’t work out for him: “After a brief and humbling stint on the smallest of pro tours, David road tripped it to Macon, Georgia to attend Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law.”

From there, Komie went to work for an Atlanta law firm representing insurance companies. In that role, I’m guessing there were no billboards proclaiming him as the attorney that rocks. It may be an unfair stereotype, but one does not associate insurance companies with rocking.

Komie moved to Austin in 1996 because Maria, his wife, was not a big fan of Atlanta. He previously had been here for SXSW because he had represented musicians. After the move he attempted to get a record label going but got nowhere.

“I thought I had enough money because I hit a big case in Atlanta. I realized that was not a lot of money so I had to practice law here,” he said.

Back then, he got some attention for TV ads playing on his appearance: “Yes, I defended insurance companies, but now I work for you. So don’t you think what I know may be very helpful to you? … So I don’t look like a lawyer, but it helps me sneak up on them.”

While lawyering, Komie was an unpaid assistant for the UT men’s tennis team. In 2006 when Ivy League on the Beach was looking for a full-time tennis coach Komie called Boca and got the job at his alma mater.

“Passing the bar,” said the South Florida Sun-Sentinel headline. “David Komie gives up law career to coach FAU’s men’s tennis team.” (The team photo for Komie’s first season showed him and the players ankle-deep in the Atlantic. Boca!)

Because you think we have too many lawyers and not enough tennis coaches, here’s the headline you wanted to see: “FAU tennis team captures national title, sends three players to Wimbledon.”

Here’s what really happened, as recalled by Komie: “I sold my practice. Once again I thought I had enough money. When I got there the program was in total disarray. I went 1-20 my first year.”

The team fared better in subsequent years but Komie quit after three years because he missed Austin and “I needed to start making some real money again. I didn’t have as much as I thought. I had some real estate investments and you know what happened to real estate.”

It’s important to note that Coach Komie shed the dreadlocks that Counselor Komie had sported, and now again sports. Acknowledging it says something about him, he told me, “I wouldn’t change the way I looked to practice law but I would do it for a tennis coach position.”

Losing the dreadlocks also had a benefit on the home front. Komie said his daughter Lillian (now 10 and recovering from a skateboard wreck; get well, Lillian), was a bit scared of her dad when she was little “because it looked like the wolfman was coming at her.”

The current billboards, he says, are an attempt to be competitive in a town without a lawyer shortage. “I pushed the envelope last time with the ‘I don’t look like a lawyer’ ads,” he said. “This time I’m going to explode the envelope. … It’s a very metal-looking sign.”

Komie, whose practice is heavy on personal injury cases, says the billboards attract “all kinds of folks,” but more women than men. He’s not sure how judges and other lawyers react to his appearance, but said “I am confident and I know my stuff so most of the time I forget how I look.”

He dresses “smart casual” for work and has had good success with juries “but now my partner who looks the part tries the cases. I am more the face to the public.”

Cameras now are following Komie around for a reality series — “The Attorneys That Rock” features Komie and partner Chris Morrow (of the two, Morrow’s the one that looks like a tennis coach) — that soon will be ready to try to sell to a network.

Komie’s amused that anybody would think what he does might be interesting enough for TV.

“I have no expectations. I didn’t ask for it. Sometimes I feel like it’s an intrusion but I’m not going to turn it down because that may be what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said.

Rock on, attorney that rocks.

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