Legal Papers Get Personal

THE WASHINGTON POST

Am I the only one who hears the screams

And the strangled cries of lawyers in love?

--Jackson Browne

Actually, James Finkelstein had been hearing them for a couple of years. Lonely subscribers and staffers wanted to know why the New York Law Journal--so indispensable for hiring civil litigators and staying abreast of product-liability doctrine--couldn't run personal ads in its classified section to help them find dates (not on court calendars, the other kind).

Finkelstein, publisher of the slightly fustian 101-year-old daily, which claims to reach 85,000 lawyers, kept harrumphing that the idea was inappropriate: "We consider ourselves a serious paper and we didn't think this was, necessarily, serious."

But his resistance was weakening, partly because he himself knew two married couples who had met through personal ads.

Meanwhile, over at the newer, rather less formal Manhattan Lawyer, publisher Margaret Samson was considering the plight of associates whose big firms expect them to bill, oh, 2,300 hours a year or so. "They spend too much time working to have social lives," she thought.

Great minds, etc.

Both legal publications began running personal ads last month, the Journal beating Manhattan Lawyer by less than a week with the delicately phrased announcement: "Your work may be rewarding, but is your life fulfilling?"

Now New York lawyers have two venues in which to plead "male partner wanted" or tender a bid for a "serious merger."

The Journal (circulation: 15,000) has received only a handful of complaints of unseemliness; Manhattan Lawyer (circulation: 9,300) has had none.

For readers--as opposed to users--of personals, the first entries have been a tad disappointing.

Clever legal puns or other forms of originality are rare. Ads from lawyers and their would-be lovers eschew both the exuberantly varied sexuality of the Village Voice personals and the references to Wordsworth, Jung and pre-Baroque music found in the New York Review of Books.

("Well, you wouldn't expect lawyers to be more witty about it," says Peter Scheer, publisher of Washington's as-yet-unpersonalized Legal Times, who's watching these developments with interest. "If anything. . . . ")

These ads, a substantial proportion placed by nonlawyers, read more like the ones found in any city magazine. "Pretty, petite, green-eyed public-interest lawyer. . . . " "33 M corp lawyer, handsome and very athletic. . . . "

Everyone of both genders is attractive, straight, successful and looking (yawn) for an Enduring Relationship.

From a targeting-the-market standpoint, though, advertising through legal publications presents key strategic advantages: That's where the boys are.

The great majority of the advertisers are women; more than 80% of the subscribers are men. The average New York Law Journal reader, a (presumably distinguished) 45 year old, has an average household income of $239,630; maybe he seeks a companion for his next weekend jaunt to Biarritz.

Manhattan Lawyer readers are younger (41) and even richer (average individual income, $296,000), and--this could be significant--three-quarters of them have shopped at Bloomingdale's in the last 12 months.

Both publishers say they're happy. If the Journal runs 40 or so ads each Wednesday, averaging five lines at $15 per, it could take in maybe $150,000 a year.

Manhattan Lawyer, with fewer ads to date but higher prices, also stands to bolster its revenues somewhat.

Finkelstein did sternly reject one ad from a married man, but Manhattan Lawyer has found its submissions "surprisingly mild," says its classified advertising director. "These are lawyers, after all."

Other legal papers and magazines are paying attention.

Los Angeles legal publications, which don't run personals, are studying their Eastern brethren's opinions and may carry the notices soon.

T. Sumner Robinson, associate publisher and editor in chief of the 20,000-circulation Los Angeles Daily Journal, was a vice president at New York Law Publishing when it decided to accept personals in the New York Law Journal.

"We are considering (running personals) here," said Robinson who was in favor of the New York Law Journal starting it. "I certainly have nothing against it."

Roger Grace, editor and co-publisher of Metropolitan News, a 2,000-circulation general newspaper with a heavy emphasis on law, said his publication is "somewhat picky" and "would not accept anything we would consider to be bad taste." But if a love-starved lawyer submitted a personal, "we'd evaluate it on an individual basis."

Washington's Scheer, who believes that "the whole profession could use a heavy dose of lightening up," has toyed with the notion of personal ads for some time.

He expects that if he opens Legal Times' classifieds to personals, lots of lawyers will be perusing them for, um, partners from other professions.

If someone spends 60 hours or more each week surrounded by lawyers, "I can understand why a lawyer would like to spend his or her Saturday nights with anybody but," he says.

On the other hand, why would an anybody-but want to spend a hot Saturday night with a lawyer?

"That," Scheer says, "is another question."

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