When attorney Randall L. Rozek opened his Milwaukee law office in 2004, he wanted a phone number that could be easily remembered, but also let prospective clients know about his practice.
Though he handles a variety of personal injury cases locally, Rozek specializes in brain trauma cases on a national level and sought to include a word or phrase in his phone number which emphasized that aspect.
Unable to find a useful combination to suit the niche, Rozek opted for a simpler, yet effective toll-free number: 1-888-A-LAWYER.
“I thought that one would be easiest to remember,” he said. “Because ‘a lawyer’ is so generic, it fits my needs and covers all the bases.”
The modest $25 investment to secure the vanity number directly from the phone company has been worth it for Rozek, but often, desired digits come with a much higher price tag.
New York personal injury lawyer Phillip Franckel purchased three popular toll-free number combinations and licenses them out to law firms around the country. By using regional toll-free numbers, Franckel can license the numbers out to multiple firms at the same time.
He said the days of calling up Sprint or AT&T to obtain vanity numbers are long gone, which is why novelty numbers are a valuable commodity.
“I spent a year trying to get a vanity phone number and in 1992, I got 1-800-HURT-911,” Franckel said. “Even by then, numbers that spelled anything were pretty much gone.”
A spokesperson for the 800 Service Management System, a centralized toll-free service administration that works with companies such as Verizon and AT&T to assign toll-free numbers, said it doesn’t condone hoarding and leasing out of vanity phone numbers by third parties, but it has no control over the practice.
While he currently doesn’t have any vanity numbers licensed in Wisconsin, Frankel said the going rate to use 1-800-HURT-911 for coverage in the southeastern part of the state is $816 per month.
“What that means is anyone who calls from those 10 counties with that number, the call instantly connects to that lawyer’s office,” he said.
Earlier this year, Wisconsin firm Dahlberg Przybyla Law LLC (http://www.dplawllc.com/) contracted with a vendor to use two vanity numbers that emphasize the firm’s practice areas.
The firm, which has three offices in the state, signed a one-year contract to use 1-800-DIVORCE and 1-866-INJURY-LAW at $500 each per month, a cost partner Jeremy C. Przybyla hopes will prove worthwhile.
He primarily does divorce work, while his partner handles personal injury cases.
“In today’s economy, our business has been picking up fairly well, but we wanted to find other ways to target a particular type of case,” he said. “This also allows us to branch out so anyone in Wisconsin who calls those numbers gets directed to us.”
While attorneys can pay for a memorable number or take their chances with their local phone company, there are ethical considerations either way.
Dean R. Dietrich, Chair of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Professional Ethics Committee, said two things lawyers need to consider when choosing a vanity number is whether it uses some other firm’s name or it is profane.
Franckel also advised against using a number which may convey to clients the promise of victory, which is why he purchased 1-800-I-CAN-WIN.
“Anytime you are using certain types of words, they can raise the eyebrows of a lawyer regulation authority,” he said. “Then again, something like 1-800-I-MAY-WIN doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in clients.”
Regardless of the wording, firms shouldn’t expect to boost business because of a catchy phone number alone, said Milwaukee drunk driving defense attorney Andrew Mishlove.
He said a vanity number should serve as a part of a firm’s overall marketing strategy.
“A catchy 800 number in of itself is not going to get people to call you,” Mishlove said.
Several years ago Mishlove obtained 877-DUI-DREW from the phone company, but not necessarily as a broad marketing tool.
He uses it more as a tribute to a deceased friend and fellow drunk driving defense attorney from Nashville, Tenn. who advertised as “DUI MIKE.”
“It was never anything I intended as a marketing plan,” Mishlove said. “My law practice is not mass market and my clientele doesn’t want a high volume lawyer.”
Milwaukee-based legal marketing consultant Elizabeth Ferris said that generally, practice areas which rely on quantity are going to get the most value from a vanity phone number.
Lawyers who cater to a broader audience, such as personal injury or drunken driving defense, will get more use from a catchphrase phone number than those who practice business or estate planning.
“If you have a practice where it’s important to remember who you are when something happens to someone, it’s going to be more beneficial than a more sophisticated area where you spend more time developing the message, rather than the phone number,” she said.
Jack Zemlicka can be reached at j[email protected]