Jacoby & Meyers

Law

1972

Jacoby & Meyers became one of the most famous law firms in the nation by advertising its cut-rate legal services on TV and earning a reputation as the Kmart of the legal profession.

"We changed the way law was practiced," said Len Jacoby, one of the two namesake founding partners.

But that notoriety has been tinged with turmoil during the past two decades.

Jacoby first met co-founder Stephen Z. Meyers at UCLA law school in the 1960s and formed a partnership that pioneered low-cost legal services for the middle class those making too much money to qualify for legal aid but not wealthy enough to hire a private lawyer.

"We saw a big gap in the delivery of legal services," Jacoby said. "We wanted to be a full-service law firm for the average person."

The partners opened storefront offices in commercial areas and even inside Montgomery Ward stores. The offices stayed open on Saturdays and even accepted credit cards.

Jacoby & Meyers also helped establish a legal precedent giving lawyers the right to promote their firms. The partners won the right to talk publicly about their practice in a case that went to the California Supreme Court. And the U.S. Supreme Court swiftly followed with a decision allowing law firms not only to speak publicly but to advertise as well.

Before long, commercials declaring "Jacoby & Meyers, It's About Time" were being broadcast more than 100 times a week during daytime talk shows and sitcom reruns.

By the '80s, the firm had mushroomed to 150 law offices in six states. But the recession and increased competition from other law firms forced Jacoby & Meyers to close most of its branch offices by 1994.

Soon after, Jacoby sued Meyers for $2 million, claiming that Meyers was trying to squeeze him out as the firm restructured. They ended up settling the dispute out of court.

Months later, the 53-year-old Meyers was killed in a head-on collision in New Fairfield, Conn., where he and his wife had a weekend home.

Now the firm runs the Jacoby & Meyers Legal Network in Southern California, which is a joint advertising program for independent lawyers, and owns and operates personal injury units in half a dozen states.

It's also preparing to launch services where else? on the Internet. "It was never our goal or intention to be the cheapest law firm," Jacoby said. "We set out to be the Sears of the legal profession, (offering) good value for a reasonable price. You don't expect a lot of frills, nor deep discounts."

Elizabeth Hayes

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