Grace Monzel, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review
“In 2020, 96% of consumers increased their online video consumption, and 9 out of 10 viewers said that they wanted to see more videos from brands and businesses. In fact, as of 2021, an average person is predicted to spend 100 minutes per day watching online videos,” according to Invideo. Based on these statistics, video advertising is arguably an effective way to sell products, services, and reach potential consumers. However, Finances Online stated that “only 24% of firms surveyed use video as part of their marketing.” This statistic inspires many questions: should more law firms regularly advertise their legal services through video? If so, which platforms are ethically and professionally acceptable? More specifically, the following article will explore the pros and cons of firms implementing video advertising on TikTok, a popular video-based social media platform.
TikTok is a social app on which users can create short videos and watch other users’ videos. As of now, these videos can be up to 60 seconds in length. The video content ranges from dance to fashion, outdoor activities, fitness, cooking, pranks, and more. “TikTok has about 1 billion monthly active users. In November of 2018, TikTok reported that the number was 680 million monthly active users. We estimate that it’s increased to over 1.1 billion as of now (February 2021),” according to Wallaroo Media. Users of the app spend around 52 minutes each day on TikTok and open the app around eight times a day. Regarding the average number of videos watched on the app, more than 1 million videos were viewed every day in a year. Lastly, in 2018, 14.3 million adults in the United States used TikTok compared to 2.6 million in 2017, thus showing the rapid increase in adults using the app. Overall, TikTok has become a huge social media platform used by a wide range of ages, and the videos on the app cover a wide variety of content areas.
As TikTok has grown and become more popular, some attorneys have begun using the platform. Some of these lawyers have gone viral on the app. For example, TikToker Michael Mandell has up to 3.5 million followers on the app and was able to gain this following in only seven weeks. Ethan Ostroff, another lawyer using TikTok, is popular on the app for answering questions from his followers about legal topics. An example of a legal video topic is whether teachers can take a student’s phone and look through it. Many of these lawyers post more than simply videos about legal issues and mix in fun and creative videos. Lastly, lawyers can even use TikTok to generate leads for their own or their firm’s legal services. Lawyers using TikTok to explain legal issues, have personal fun and generate leads to find clients leads to important questions. What are the pros and cons of lawyers and firms using and creating legal content on TikTok?
A. Pros of Attorneys Using TikTok
Since TikTok is such a widely used and popular app, there are many benefits for lawyers when using and creating content on the app. One of the biggest benefits to lawyers and firms is free advertising and exposure through the app. TikTok has millions of users scrolling through videos daily. By understanding and using tips on how to make videos that will appeal to TikTok users, such as keeping a video short or having an engaging caption, there is a strong likelihood that the TikTok algorithm will show your videos to a higher number of users on the app. This allows lawyers’ videos to be seen by a wide range of people and to gain followers. As a result, these viewers and followers can potentially turn into clients. Suppose a viewer is having a legal problem and they see a lawyer’s video on TikTok that offers engaging and trustworthy legal advice. In that case, viewers could feel more comfortable reaching out to the lawyer or contacting the firm for professional legal advice. Overall, TikTok videos are a quick, short, and effective way for lawyers to gain exposure and advertise their legal services on the app.
Another pro for lawyers and firms using and creating legal content on TikTok is that these videos can help the average person learn about legal issues. A poll from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that, “only one in four [people] (26%) can name all three branches of the government,” according to CNN. Educating young people and adults on legal issues and laws can positively impact both the individual viewers and local communities. Further, not every person can afford or has access to resources to learn about legal issues, so lawyers’ TikTok videos can reach and educate a large demographic of people. These videos could even encourage people to seek legal advice on their personal issues.
Lastly, when lawyers use TikTok for more than simply explaining and discussing legal issues and mix in fun and creative videos, this content shows the personality of lawyers. Lawyers and the study of law can appear very intimidating to people. Showing viewers that lawyers are normal people can make potential clients feel more comfortable seeking legal advice. Also as a result of lawyers using the app, TikTok videos about legal issues have made the law something that is talked about daily. Lawyers are creating an open and engaging discussion about laws and legal incidents with the general public, making viewers more informed about the law. Overall, these videos educate viewers and potentially even inspire younger people to pursue the study of law.
B. Cons of Attorneys Using TikTok
Although there are many pros to attorneys using TikTok, it is important to explore possible cons. One potentially negative effect of lawyers using and creating videos on TikTok is that some legal advertisements can give people the wrong impression of attorneys and their work. When people see lawyers making funny videos, this could make the legal profession seem less serious. This could also harm the law firm that the lawyer is working for, as the firm could get an unprofessional or negative reputation because it is associated with the lawyer who is making TikTok videos. Another concern is that if lawyers are only sharing information about how much money one can win in a lawsuit and are overly optimistic about legal cases, this could create the impression that anyone can recover millions of dollars if they hire the attorney in the ad. In turn, this could have negative consequences on the attorney’s reputation as well as a firm that they are working for. Potential clients may not realize how costly litigation is, which could lead to frustration and disappointment when they reach out to the lawyer on TikTok or the lawyer’s law firm.
Another con is that lawyers could be held accountable for giving certain advice in videos or directly answering questions from viewers. Viewers will have video evidence of attorneys giving legal advice on TikTok. “When lawyers communicate with people on webpages or other modes of communication, there is the potential for ethics problems if they’re not careful. While the lawyer assumes no lawyer-client relationship has been created… some might believe otherwise,” according to the ABA Journal. Viewers of a TikTok video, especially a video that is directly answering a someone’s specific question, could assume the lawyer agreed to represent them because the lawyer is providing them with legal advice. Therefore, the lawyer could be held accountable and face an ethical violation. A final concern is that not every viewer understands that laws can vary state by state and legal decisions vary by judge and jurisdiction. This could give viewers the impression that if someone with a similar case won in court, they would also win in court. In reality, just because a case worked out in one court does not mean that the same ruling will occur in a different court.
Advertising through video is becoming more and more popular. More people are using social platforms such as TikTok to advertise their products and services. As discussed above, there are many pros and cons to attorneys using and creating content on TikTok. Lawyers must take caution when providing legal advice on the app and ensure that they follow legal and ethical guidelines to avoid potential lawsuits or negative reputational consequences. However, I would ultimately argue that it is acceptable for lawyers to use and create videos on TikTok. The app offers an easy and effective way to reach millions of potential clients. The platform is a great way to create an open dialogue about the law and to inspire people to seek legal advice and potentially even go to law school. It will be exciting to see the positive effects of the legal side of TikTok: Attorney-Tok.
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