Jay M. Jaffe: Larger than Life

Today we sadly offer a guest post from Josh Peck, Senior Media Relations Manager of Duane Morris in Philadelphia, as a tribute to our friend and law marketing pioneer, Jay Jaffe.  Jay was President and CEO of Jaffe PR.  Read his biography here.


I’m writing this the night after Thanksgiving, but many of you will have heard the news by the time you see this.  My friend and mentor, Jay M. Jaffe, truly one of the pioneers of legal marketing, died Wednesday night after a surgery that he and everyone else around him had expected would go smoothly.  It is quite a shock, and a devastating loss to our community.

Jay was an innovator, a font of Big Ideas, a fierce advocate for the people who worked for him and a fierce competitor to those who didn’t.  He stepped forward strongly to support the idea of Law Firm Media Professionals and talked to me about expanding into other cities, which of course then happened, seemingly of its own accord.  He was also one of our first speakers on social media a few years ago, and went ahead to make that a mainstay of his business in recent years.  

Many of the strides that came in law firm marketing over the last four decades had the Jaffe touch. My favorite was his vaunted idea for the late Howrey & Simon, when he “turned” the firm into a litigation powerhouse in the public mind with the phrase, “In Court Every Day,” in beautiful ads that showed off various historically important courthouses—Appomattox, Little Rock, etc.  It was a celebrated “story-telling” ad, and had permanent influence.

Personally, Jay was larger than life.  He brought new recruits into the fold with one big shot of confidence and many of wisdom.  Many of you have heard the story of his sage advice to me, shortly after I joined Jaffe in 1995.  He arrived at a lunch meeting with a stranger in tow, who turned out to be a suit salesman, and insisted that I do business with the fellow.  When I quizzically wondered aloud what might be the real purpose of this unplanned rendezvous, he uttered the immortal line that has guided me and others ever since— “Josh, the partners probably already think you’re an idiot because you don’t have a law degree; the least you can do is dress better than they do.”  It became a running joke and Jay loved it when I referred to it with friends or, even better, in speeches.

As famous as he became, it was refreshing how often he described his modest roots—“my father sold tchotchkes,” he would joke, proudly.  And he would often continue to talk about the basic ideas of salesmanship or marketing that high-fallutin theories of sales always seemed to miss for a plainer, simpler truth.

Jay and I were in touch infrequently after I left his outfit, but the conversations, on the phone or in person, were always warm and fun.  And a few months ago, I sprouted the idea that we should celebrate his many years of powerful influence on the profession with an informal get-together of everyone who had ever worked for him, and—to extend the reach—everyone who had ever worked for THEM.  That would have taken in many—maybe most—of the best-known names in our profession.  At first Jay resisted the idea of making it an all-inclusive event, as he had not maintained ties with all of his former employees.  But I countered with the point that if we invited everyone, regardless of standing in his esteem, it could and would amount to a virtual who’s who of law firm marketers.  He acceded to the plan, and even suggested the date—around Thanksgiving of next year, which would also have made it a 70th birthday party.  It would have been quite an event.

I could tell stories for days, but I’ll leave off with an invitation to have a look at some of his cleverer ideas over the years, which I would imagine will surface on the Jaffe website.  I wish more of you could have had the benefit of the personal aura and charisma of this extraordinary man.  I’ll miss you, Jay. May your daughter, Sara, be comforted among the mourners of Zion.