The most fun I’ve ever had as an attorney was the two days in June 2014 that I spent making the first Pete Reid Law commercial. In fact, the whole process was a blast, from coming up with the idea, to working with the filmmakers to make it happen, and then watching the reaction it generated from around the World.
For about 15 minutes or so in the summer of 2014, the video was a minor internet sensation. I think it would therefore be appropriate for me to tell the story of the video in the style of “the internet”. So instead of a traditional narrative, I’ve gone and done a list.
18 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Pete Reid Law Video.
1 The main goal of the commercial was not to acquire new clients.
More than anything else I did it because I thought it would be a good laugh. And it was. That’s not to say I didn’t think about the possible consequences. I probably over-thought it. Actually, I was more conscious of losing clients than gaining them. I wanted it to be entertaining, but I was worried that if I did something too ridiculous, then people might not take me seriously as an attorney.
And that’s a really fine line. Most lawyer ads are terrible. That’s a fact. Then there are a few that are enjoyable to watch, but they usually make the attorney look like a lunatic. And I don’t think reasonable people want to hire a lunatic lawyer.
As well as trying to walk that line, every lawyer commercial must be approved by the State Bar, and it must comply with their rules. One of those rules is that you can’t have an actor portray a lawyer. So the lawyers actually have to be in their own commercials, which is typically the reason that most lawyer ads are shit. Also the rules say that you can’t announce that you are the best at something, and you can’t create unjustified expectations.
Most lawyers get around that by either shouting a lot at the camera, or flashing big dollar verdicts they’ve previously obtained. Typical lawyer ads seem to be all about who has the loudest voice, or who has the biggest numbers, and there is a complete lack of subtlety.
So I started to wonder if I could make an ad that made me look like the greatest man alive, and whether I could do it without actually saying anything at all.
2 Wes Anderson’s Rushmore was the biggest influence.
My original idea was for me to do a series of awesome things in one tracking shot, like the famous scene in Goodfellas, perhaps as I was walking down a long corridor, or walking into court. Then I re-watched this sequence from ‘Rushmore’, and that was it. That was the reference point.
3 The Rushmore song led me to The Ugly Beats.
Once I’d seen the Rushmore sequence, I couldn’t get that song out of my head. It’s a song called ‘Making Time’ by an old 60’s garage rock band called The Creation. So I asked my friend DJ Linda if she knew of any local bands that sounded like them. Immediately she put me on to The Ugly Beats. When I heard their tune ‘I’m The One For You’, it just seemed too perfect.
I learned that their keyboard player Jeanine was an old client of Farah’s. So I got in touch and asked them if I could license the song. I’m pretty sure they didn’t write ‘I’m The One’ with a lawyer commercial in mind, but amazingly they got back to me within 24 hours and told me I could have it. I loved that I could use a song from a cool Austin band, and I think that when they saw the final video they got a kick out of it too.
4 The Beastie Boys led me to Tina Rivera.
I’ve always loved Spike Jonze, and the video he made for ‘Sabotage‘ by The Beastie Boys. It just looked like they had so much fun making it. For my video, I wanted it to look professional, but I didn’t want it to be a huge production. I think you can get away with a bit more when it looks slightly low budget. I just didn’t know who could do it.
Then I saw a video that had been made to promote some gigs at Hotel Vegas, a club on the east side of Austin. It was a shot for shot remake of ‘Sabotage’ and it was beautiful. It was exactly the tone I was looking for. It was made by Tina Rivera. I didn’t know Tina but I knew a few people in her video like Johnny Walker and Jason McNeely. Eventually I plucked up the courage to get in touch with her. Again, I’m pretty sure she never thought she would ever be involved with a lawyer commercial, but we met a few times to talk about ideas, and she agreed to do it with her directing partner Jake Bayless.
5 We Filmed The Whole Thing in 2 Days.
Working with Jake and Tina to put the whole thing together was a dream. With a little help from some friends, I’d come up with ideas for a beginning, an end, and 9 scenes in between. But they were just ideas, like ‘beating a bunch of people at chess’ or ‘apprehending a mugger’. I told Jake and Tina that I was trying to convey certain things about my law practice in each scene like “intelligence”, “honesty”, “strength”, “creativity”, or “Scottishness”. Then Jake and Tina took the ideas, and figured out how to make them work in a few seconds. That was their genius. Each shot works because they were able to set up each scene, show some action, and deliver a payoff in six seconds or less.
Tina and Jake put together a crew and found most of the locations. They then developed a storyboard and a production schedule to film the 11 scenes in just two days.
6 The soccer scene was the first thing we filmed at 8am on Friday morning.
I wanted to film the bicycle kick scene with real soccer players. I knew some of the people from the Austin Aztex soccer team, and I learned that they practiced at their downtown stadium on Friday mornings between 8 and 10am. So we were there at 8am to film our first scene.
If you’ve seen the movie, then you probably know that the inspiration for the bicycle kick / overhead kick was Pele in ‘Escape to Victory‘, (known as ‘Victory’ in the US).
I used to love that film. If you havn’t seen it, don’t bother. Unless you happen to be a fan of British 2nd World War films and 1970’s soccer. I remember someone describing it as “footballers that can’t act, actors that can’t play football, and Americans that can do neither”. It stars Michael Caine, Bobby Moore, John Wark, and Sylvester Stallone. It’s totally crap, but the Pele kick is something I’ve always remembered.
I used to practice doing bicycle kicks for hours with my brother in our back garden. So I knew how to do it. But that was a long time ago. In June 2014, it had been almost two decades, and two knee operations, since I’d even thought about attempting it.
7 Those are actual professional soccer players in the video.
All of the soccer players were members of the Austin Aztex at the time. The guy who is defending me in slow motion is Sito Seoane who is now playing for Fylkir FC in the Icelandic Premier League. Bubacarr Jobe is currently playing for Toronto FC, and Andrew Fox, who is one of the defenders that watches the ball fly over his head, played for Peterborough United in the English League One last season.
All of them were very generous with their time and probably not quite sure why they were watching a middle-aged lawyer in a suit throwing himself around like a madman.
8 I had 5 attempts at the bicycle kick. Only one went in.
The question I get asked the most about this video is “how many attempts did you have at the bicycle kick?”. Well, having looked back at the raw footage, I can now reveal that it took 5 takes. Tina filmed 3 from the side in normal speed, one in super slo-mo, and one shot facing the goals. The last one was a proper goal. Here is the proof. Music by The Ugly Beats again. Keep an eye on Sito Seoane pissing himself every time I hit the ground.
9 Farah and Dune appear in the video.
Very briefly, but they are there.
10 The majority owner of the Austin Aztex is in the video.
At that time I’d done a little bit of legal work for one of the part owners of the Aztex, but after Rene saw this, he hired me to work on a lot of the contracts for the Aztex players and staff. People always ask me if I got a lot of new clients from the ad. I didn’t, but after he watched me do this, I was hired as the lawyer for Austin Aztex.
11 The Ginger Beer bottle is a reference to a famous Scottish legal case.
One of my many worries about the video was that some other lawyers or judges might think it somehow devalued or made fun of the law. So I wanted to have a response ready.
There is an old Scottish case from the 1930s that is taught in every law school in the world called Donoghue v Stevenson. It’s about a lady from Paisley, (near Barrhead), who found a dead snail in her bottle of Stevenson’s Ginger Beer, and it created the modern concept of negligence and ‘duty of care’.
I found out what that ginger beer bottle looked like, and replicated the label on photoshop. I made my own Stevenson’s Ginger Beer. If you look closely you can see it in the Rubik’s cube scene.
My thought was that if ever some legal snob tried to say that my video was stupid, then I would point out to them that they had obviously missed the reference to the landmark case of Donoghue v Stevenson. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll be ready when it does.
12 The book I carry and read from is ‘Law’s Empire’ by Ronald Dworkin.
I studied Jurisprudence, also known as the philosophy of law, for three years at law school, both in Texas and in Edinburgh. It was one of the more interesting classes and probably my best subject. Of all the writers I studied, I was drawn to Dworkin’s theories on the intersection of law and morality and the way that judges should apply discretion. So I thought it would be appropriate to carry that book with me in the video. But really I thought it just might make me look a bit clever.
13 I wore two suits in the video – a stunt suit and a nice suit.
Just before I went to New York in 2010 I bought my first suit off the rack in Men’s Warehouse at the mall. I wore it almost every day in NYC for a year, through rain, snow, humidity, and stress, before it got retired due to general stinkiness. For some reason I kept it, and I used it as my stunt suit on this shoot. For most of the outdoor scenes, including the soccer and the pool scene, that’s what I’m wearing. For the opening scene and the court scenes, I’m wearing a very nice, tailored, Armani suit that I bought in Tuscany. That’s how I roll.
14 It’s not a real caber and I know that caber tossing is not about distance.
Cabers are normally giant telephone pole size pieces of wood that are tossed by strongmen during Scottish Highland games. Being a Lowlander, I’ve never really been into the Highland Games thing, but I wanted to do something identifiably Scottish. The caber I used was made by my friend Chris Dominguez who makes theater props.
The thing is that the sport of Caber Tossing is not about how far you can throw it, it’s about flipping it, so that it falls directly away from the tosser in the “12 o’clock position”. I know that. Everyone in Scotland knows that. But I thought a) no one knows that in America, and b) if a caber tossing nerd wants to take the time to point out that I’m tossing the caber incorrectly, then I’ll be happy to have annoyed them.
15 All of the chess moves are actual winning moves.
Again I had a thought that some chess nerds might watch the video and comment about how the moves I made were not winning moves. So while Tina and Jake set up the tracking shot for the chess scene, I set up six chess boards with the pieces being one move away from checkmate. Each of the moves I made were legitimate winning moves. At the time of writing, I have not been contacted by any chess nerds.
16 Everyone else made me look good.
The video wouldn’t have been made without all of the people behind and in front of the camera. Everyone you see in the video did it for fun. I will be forever indebted to these people:
Benjamin Cissner, Jim Scarborough, Kyle Gupton, Matthew Salmi, Ashley Gillespie, Amanda Elmore, Bailey Cromwell, Sito Seoane, Bubacarr Jobe, Adam Black, Andrew Fox, John Kaschak, Brian Floyd, Trisha Kester, Amelia Dunaway McCraw, Sharon Elliott, Paul Clark, and the scene-stealing Aasim Syed. And of course Farah and Dune Reid for being my biggest fans. Oh and Ernest ‘#drowningman’ Salaz. (He is one of my best friends, and he wasn’t actually drowning).
17 I knew if I got the video on Above the Law then a few people might see it. But I didn’t expect it to get as popular as it did.
Above The Law is a legal blog based out of New York that reports on newsworthy lawsuits, law firm salaries, and legal gossip. It’s like Gawker for lawyers. But it can also be quite cynical, and the people who take the time to comment on there are extremely negative. I’d noticed that they would sometimes publish articles about lawyer commercials, although usually to poke fun at them.
One of their writers though, named Joe Patrice, had defended a particularly silly commercial saying “Look, we should applaud anything that busts out of “I’m wearing a conservative suit and reading books” as the Platonic ideal of a lawyer.”
I had a feeling he might like my video. In fact that statement prompted my idea to start the video with the stereotypical lawyer in front of books image, and then immediately swerve away from that. I thought that if I could somehow get Patrice to see my video, then maybe he might re-tweet it, or share a link to it somewhere.
When the video was done, I emailed and tweeted it to him. I didn’t hear a response. In fact, I’ve never had a response from him. But three days later, late one Friday afternoon, Above The Law put my video on its front page under the headline “Everyone Needs To Watch This Insane And Awesome Lawyer Ad, by Joe Patrice”. The sub-header was “What if Wes Anderson made a legal ad”. Patrice wrote that “Pete Reid has made an ad for the ages” and linked to my website. When that happened I didn’t think it could get any better.
But from there it was picked up by a UK law blog, then a Europe wide law blog, then a Texas Lawyer magazine called me for an interview. Legal blogs in Australia, Brazil, and The Netherlands all hailed it as something amazing. Then it made it onto Fast Company, Elite Daily, and Buzzfeed. I was interviewed for Scottish Sunday Newspapers. Someone wrote to me and told me it was being shown as part of their marketing class. The general counsel of Whole Foods called me up just to say that he had seen it and he loved it. The Colbert Report called me and asked me to be on the show as a guest.
All that happened in August and September 2014. It seemed like every day someone else in the world was writing about my video. I didn’t get much work done. It was very exciting.
18 The commercial didn’t generate a lot of new clients.
The popularity of the video didn’t really convert into a ton of new business. But that wasn’t the point. I purposely didn’t put my phone number on there. I didn’t even advertise the areas of law I specialize in. Because I wanted it to be different from every other lawyer ad. I wanted to be subtle.
Getting hired to work with the Austin Aztex was enough, and that happened after we had filmed the first scene. Also the clients that have come to me through the video are some of the best clients I’ve got.
But again, I did it because I thought it would be fun. And holy shit it was fun. I’m hoping that the sequel will be just as entertaining.