By Toby Tabachnick
Senior Staff Writer
Criminal attorney Daniel Muessig’s Internet video ad is at once really funny and yet kind of appalling.
The 2012 University of Pittsburgh law school graduate — who had another life as the rapper Dos Noun — has a novel way of drumming up business.
The video, released in March, depicts criminals working their various specialties — including burglary, home invasion, armed robbery and prostitution — then smiling at the camera and saying, “Thanks, Dan.”
The ad, which has been viewed more than 220,000 times and has garnered national media attention, also features Meussig sitting at a desk, espousing his philosophy to would-be clients in plain terms:
“Consequences. They sure suck, don’t they?” Muessig says. “America was built on freedom, not on a bunch of people with more money than you telling you what you can and can’t do with all their stupid laws. Laws are arbitrary.”
He then tells his viewers they can trust him.
“I may have a law degree,” he says, “but I think like a criminal. Street knowledge.”
He returns calls and makes jail visits, he says: “I’ll probably be there visiting my friends anyway.”
The video ends with Muessig, 32, spinning a dreidel on his desk, saying, “Did I mention I’m Jewish?”
Muessig, who is in fact Jewish and grew up in Squirrel Hill, said he wanted to highlight his ethnicity — in a tongue-in-cheek way — because it is considered prestigious for those “in the system” to have a Jewish defense attorney.
“You’re very auspicious on the streets if you have a Jewish lawyer,” he told The Chronicle. “That’s considered to be a super prestigious situation. It’s almost like having the coolest car.”
The cast in the video is composed partially of actual criminals, Muessig said.
“Some of them are real criminals,” he explained, “but they’re my friends. Two of them don’t do anything anymore. The only actor was the prostitute. Of the people in the commercial, about half have been in trouble.”
While the commercial is obviously meant to be waggish, Muessig knows he has come pretty close to the line of ethical propriety. He took great care to not technically cross that line, he said.
“I have no ethics worries,” he said. “I crafted it to go right on the line, but I was careful to not break any ethical lines. I didn’t put on any prosecutors or judges. I really do respect the system.”
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have criticisms of that system, he said. “I think the drug laws are largely arbitrary and class based.”
Muessig, who lives in Friendship, has his own criminal defense practice downtown. The commercial has been really good for business, he said, and response to it has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
But not everyone is onboard, he admitted, including some of the more veteran criminal defense attorneys in town, who vented to some newspapers and on Facebook.
And Tom Loftus, the spokesman for the Allegheny County Bar Association, was likewise not amused.
“I have a great sense of humor, but I found the commercial to be insulting to our many lawyers who take great pride in their profession and who every day are providing service to those who need legal assistance,” Loftus said in an email. “Since the video is out there on the Internet there really isn’t a targeted audience, and anyone can view it. I’m concerned that some younger viewers may not understand it when Mr. Muessig calls it ‘tongue in cheek’ and instead think crime is being glamorized since the commercial shows actors still committing crimes after being freed.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)