He's Attorney James Sokolove

By Francis Storrs | Boston Magazine |

Sokolove estimates he’s appeared in some 200 different versions of his commercials over the years. A film scholar surveying his body of work might note that the production values have come down since he went to the trouble of staging car crashes. "At some point he decided the time and effort that went into them just wasn’t worth it," Mysliwicz says. ("Why would I spend $35,000 on an ad," Sokolove says, "when a $1,500 one works just as well?")

That realization was a while in coming. In the 1980s Sokolove tried filming intricate testimonials. One such spot featured a young actress in soft focus talking about a doctor’s failure to diagnose her cancer and included a clip of Sokolove inviting viewers to call for an educational pamphlet. Sokolove was pleased with the result. "I was pitching information; it wasn’t about revenge," he says. Yet the message that seemed to reach viewers was that lawsuits are complicated, and sorting things out can be tricky, and therefore probably not worth the trouble. The people watching him on television, he came to understand, don’t want a discussion. They just want to know what a lawyer can do for them.

Sokolove has since also discovered that his most successful ads are the most formulaic. Unadorned with fancy graphics, they speak to very specific audiences (patients who once took a drug the FDA has pulled off the market is a big one). These ads always display his toll-free phone number and website address for the duration of the segment, to allow plenty of time to write it down. Sokolove—wearing his lawyerly suit—speaks directly to the camera, in a style he describes as "serious but not stern." He knows from his research that most people think hiring a lawyer means paying up front, so he always explains that it costs nothing to talk to him. He never brings up any of his affiliates, because that only confuses viewers. And he always, always mentions the potential rewards. The message behind his ads, he says, is simple: Injured? Free money.

Sokolove is equally direct when people attack that approach. Even in the halls of academia he’s unapologetic. During a recent talk at Suffolk Law, a student spoke up to challenge Sokolove’s explanation that it wouldn’t be cost-effective for him to pursue a malpractice suit he couldn’t win or settle for at least a million dollars. "I’m proud of my values, I give a lot to charity," Sokolove said, "but I’m not in the religion business."

"You just called helping your fellow man ‘the religion business,’" the student pointed out.

"Do you see a problem with that?" Sokolove shot back. "You can’t help anybody if you go bankrupt."

Sokolove’s own family has gotten used to people thinking of him as a heartless ambulance chaser. "We all understand why he’s made fun of," says his wife, Stephanie, who operates the popular eatery Stephanie’s on Newbury. "What you don’t get from TV is how gentle Jim is. On a personal level he would just as soon get along and work things out. The biggest misconception about Jim is that he’s a scumbag."

The couple first met in 1996, at the wedding of a mutual friend. Stephanie remembers thinking, "Oh, here’s that guy I’ve been seeing on television for 20 years." Not five minutes into the reception, Sokolove sidled up to her. "I think I’m falling in love with you," he said. "Do you want to have a baby with me?" After that opening line, Sokolove didn’t speak to her for eight months. Then: "He came by the restaurant one day and put his arm around me and said, ‘How have you been?’"

Stephanie entered Sokolove’s life during a difficult stretch for him. He had recently divorced from his second wife, and, at 53, had been slowly edging his way out of his business, contemplating retirement. He was in the process of dropping down from 65 employees to just seven. Before they married in early 1997, Sokolove told Stephanie he wasn’t sure where his career was headed. "Look," he said, "I got a couple bucks, but I don’t know what I’m going to do."

By the end of the year, Stephanie had given birth to a daughter. It wasn’t long, though, before Sokolove realized that his quasi-retirement wasn’t going to take. He began consulting for firms that wanted to follow his lead. And as he saw other lawyers succeeding with his playbook, he began to wonder if his regional firm, for all its success, had accomplished everything it could have.

Beginning in 1999, Sokolove started to rebuild. This time he wouldn’t keep any cases for his own firm; he’d refer them all out. By 2003 he had nearly quadrupled his number of affiliates, from 14 to 50. Five years later, he has 400 relationships set up in all 50 states. And he’s not stopping there. Convinced he’s the vanguard of another change in the legal business, Sokolove is rolling out a marketing effort next month that seeks to add another 200 affiliates to his network. "It’s all about national branding," Sokolove says. "If you’re a Realtor, you can’t exist unless you become part of a system. That’s the same thing that is going to take place in legal services—consumers want to have trust in a name."

Until 2000, Sokolove had advertised only in New England, but to feed all his new and far-flung affiliates, he needed national advertising. As before, the vagaries of legal culture conspired to complicate matters. No other personal-injury firm had ever tried advertising nationwide, since the rules for what bar associations allow differ from state to state. In Iowa, for instance, a member of the firm being advertised cannot appear in the spot, while in Florida, a member of the firm must appear in it. To get around all that, Sokolove’s commercials now feature only the name of the firm in block text, the phone number, and an actor’s voice-over. The face that launched a million lawsuits is gone, but his name is everywhere.

  • Ben

    I have been waiting for this article ever since I got cable in 1990! Fantastic story. It would be nice to see more feature stories like this that don't revolve entirely around keeping up with the Joneses and conspicuous consumption, right?

  • joe
  • omayra

    hello i would like to know if i would be able to recieve workers comp. due to an accident at work. I had gotten injured and my employer refuses to give me money although i had gotten hurt at work and am not able to return to work till my doctor says taht its ok. can james k. sokolove help me?

  • Robin

    I read the article in the Boston Magazine moths ago. My sisters and I are concerned for my dad who is in Boston Medical now going on 7 mo 7-31-09. This is unhear of. Hes 79 originally started with colon cancer 1st surgery to remove then 2 others because of leakage from punctured blatter and kidney, another gallblatter surgery and plastic surgery to close the wound that punctured something. stints put in and taken out. Hes YELLOW, fever and has infection from open wound thats only special nurses can change. Please advise. My dad is affraid to say anything. He wants to get back together. No one else would take this case, its contaminiated.

  • jb

    Sadly, Mr. Sokolove’s misguided ability to convince himself that he is, in some way, doing good in the world has only let to the propagation of his destructive enterprise from within New England to the rest of the country. Though clearly focusing on the quite interesting evolution of this evil empire, I thank Boston Magazine for at least showcasing at least some of Mr. Sokolove’s shameless self promotion and lust for financial gain (at any cost.) Be ashamed Jim Sokolove. I can assure you, your influence on the health care system has killed many more than you have saved…

  • Salvador Angel

    MI NOMBRE ES SALVADOR ANGEL Y SOY ESPAOL …

  • lynne

    Is Jim still doing coke? Does he have any $ left. He is the worst human being.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.slaven.16 Richard Slaven

    After reading this article I think Sokolove’s firm is one of the best firm. Now as a professional member of http://lawyerredmondattorney.com/ I want to discuss here about personal injury law. I know that many people have no idea about this and they are not getting enough compensation. Remember one-thing only a good lawyer can help an injured person to get enough compensation.

  • Jerry C. Allen

    My wife borrowed our uncle car with permission and was in an accident. we seattle the amount but they are greedy to ask more money. how to handle this case

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