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Divorcée talks with Antonyan Miranda, king of divorce billboards

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Miranda estimates that they have about twenty billboards up around the county right now. With regulations capping San Diego at just under 600 allowable billboards, this means that these flippant, sometimes confrontational ads make up about 3% of all available billboard space in San Diego.
Miranda estimates that they have about twenty billboards up around the county right now. With regulations capping San Diego at just under 600 allowable billboards, this means that these flippant, sometimes confrontational ads make up about 3% of all available billboard space in San Diego.

Five months into my recent nuptials, I found myself in something of an ominous place, matrimonially speaking: on the 21st floor of the downtown Emerald Plaza, which houses the law office of popular divorce law firm Antonyan Miranda. You know the one: right now, they’re advertising themselves as having been “Voted Best Wedding Planner,” on billboards along various San Diego highways. They’ve got another one reading “Size Mattered,” which might not be as crude as it sounds: perhaps it means that the wife grew unhappy with the husband’s meager income, or that the husband was displeased with his wife’s weight gain. Perhaps.

As I stepped out of the elevator into the almost overwhelming, brightly painted vestibule, I read the phrases on the wall: “Protect yourself at all times,” “The ring comes off, the gloves come off,” and “Avoid Mediocrity.” That last one seemed cryptic: surely a failed marriage was a mediocre result? But then, maybe not as mediocre as getting a lousy deal in the divorce. I reached for the door to the reception area and was surprised to find it locked. Visions of angry exes, the kind who had failed to avoid mediocrity and were out for revenge, flashed in my mind.

The receptionist’s voice crackled over the intercom: “How can I help you?” I told her I was there for an appointment with Mr. Miranda. After confirming this, she swiftly granted me access. I was greeted warmly, shown to the nearest conference room, and offered a beverage.

I was relieved to find that the world inside the locked doors felt a lot different from the one outside. The conference room was comfortable and light-filled, offering sweeping views of the harbor and downtown San Diego. Not a bad place to start one of the most tumultuous events of your life, I thought to myself. And I would know; this wasn’t my first time being a newlywed. I knew, intimately, the shell shock that sets in once you realize the honeymoon can’t last forever, that marriage is more than just an unending two-person party, that maybe you’ve made a terrible mistake. But even on the inside, there were hints of the attitude behind those vestibular phrases, and those billboards: a cluster of pens resting in a branded mug, the handle of which was a set of brass knuckles. The mug sat next to a box of tissues and a dish of chocolates; this struck me as emblematic of the place’s vibe: tough or sweet, depending what side you were on. The pens, surprisingly, were emblazoned only with the firm’s logo and not some aggressive phrase about things mightier than swords. Can’t all be winners. I took a swig out of my complimentary Antonyan Miranda water bottle and leaned back in one of the room’s eight $200 ergonomic chairs.

As I swiveled to the left, I noticed a large, mounted TV, the sole purpose of which seemed to be the display of an infinite loop of their popular billboards: the classic raised ring finger flanked by “Antonyan Miranda” and “expertdivorcelaw.com,” the stick figure heading for the door over the web address divorciandose.com, the blunt “Split Happens.” I zoned out as the cascade of slides washed over me, and started thinking about how there weren’t many things less humorous than divorce — than the grief that comes with realizing your vision of “forever” is not going to pan out. If only it were as simple as merely heading for the exit sign, rather than navigating who gets the kids or dogs, or saying goodbye to your second set of parents (who may possibly hate you forever now). “Split happens,” sure, but just because something is commonplace does not make it any less painful.

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And of course, the pain doesn’t end at the “split;” it echoes for years, rising up and surprising you at the most bizarre moments. Not long after my own divorce, I found myself in pigeon pose during a yoga class in Ocean Beach, suddenly overwhelmed with nostalgia for a night in with my husband, sitting on the couch, just drinking wine and watching our favorite shows. The better times. As I breathed downward into my yoga mat, tears gathering in the corners of my eyes, I wondered: Do I miss him? Or just the idea of him? Will I be alone forever? Am I damaged goods? Was the mistake not marrying him, but leaving him? Do I need to cancel my yoga membership?

Thankfully, and despite the apparent permission I was being granted by those looped billboards, I was not in this office to seek another divorce. I was there to talk to the man behind these messages. Tim Miranda, founding partner and litigation trial attorney at Antonyan Miranda, estimates that they have about twenty billboards up around the county right now. With regulations capping San Diego at just under 600 allowable billboards, this means that these flippant, sometimes confrontational ads make up about 3% of all available billboard space in San Diego.

“Baby I’m Bored”

“We have had people that express their distaste for them,” said Miranda, seated across from me in a perfectly tailored black suit contrasted by a yellow and brown plaid shirt — no tie. This intriguing ensemble fell in line with the rest of my dichotomous experience thus far. For all of the tough talk on the billboards and the “take no prisoners” mentality of the firm’s marketing, this guy was even-keeled and calm. The tough exterior indicated by the suit was belied by the jovial yellow shirt underneath. “Fortunately, there are more people that seem to express adulation for them; they like the creativity, and at least the humor. But there is a small percentage of people that have indicated they don’t like it, sent an email or left a message, something to that effect.” Asked for specifics, he demurred, “I really don’t want to dignify the criticism or that type of response,” but I didn’t detect any animosity in his tone.

The first billboard went up in 2019, just before covid. “The idea of a billboard in the abstract was to gain awareness of the type of work we do; it’s not necessarily a field of law the everybody talks about, although there is quite a bit of divorce and family law in the state of California — particularly in Southern California — so it was really just a way of expanding our marketing footprint into somewhat of a non-traditional medium.” Prior to the billboards, the firm primarily marketed through more “organic” methods: referrals, word-of-mouth, pay-per-click ads. By and large, those still remain the firm’s primary source of business — “the billboards are just an adjunct marketing campaign.”

It’s hard for me to hold the terms “marketing” and “divorce” together in my head without wincing — it’s almost as if marriage itself were a commodity. But Miranda noted that while his billboards were unusual in one way, they were common in another. “I think that when somebody typically has a need [for a divorce attorney], then they will start to do research, which includes asking around and things like that. It seems like the majority of advertisements are about personal injury and other areas. Maybe because it’s more palatable, I’m not sure. I think there is also just some general distaste for attorneys that advertise through mediums such as billboards, and some people just don’t like attorney advertising at all.”

“Cinco de bye-o”

When I was going through my own determination of “irreconcilable differences” — that’s the official term used on my divorce decree — “adjunct marketing campaign” was not a term that I would ever have associated with the experience. This might be because my ex and I did not shop around for high-end lawyers; he simply used a family friend who was an attorney — the business motto was “Remember the Alimony,” so maybe some marketing was at play, after all — drew up some papers, and sent them to me in the mail. The whole thing cost me $25, the price of my own copy of the divorce decree.

Even so, I remember it being a stressful hassle and that it took me some time to figure out a loophole regarding notarization in California. When I finally did, and proudly e-mailed his attorney to let him know that I had just put the papers in the mail, he responded: “You don’t have to send anything to the clerk’s office. The divorce is done and over with” Exactly like that. Not even the dignity of a period at the end of the sentence that unceremoniously changed my life forever.

The world dissolved in that moment, like a room’s four walls collapsing away from me. Actually, and maybe oddly, that’s also how it felt when the man who was now my ex proposed to me, four years earlier. It was one of those moments when you know nothing will be the same ever again. I forwarded the unpunctuated e-mail to my ex with a simple, uncapitalized “what?” and he responded that he had gone to court the week prior, that everything was completed (read: I had unknowingly been a bona fide divorcee for a week already), and that any future correspondence should go through his attorney. And just like that..split happened.

I asked Miranda why Southern California was such a hotbed for family law. He replied, “I can’t really pin that down for sure, because I haven’t been divorced.” When he said “never been divorced,” he also meant that he’s never been married. Could being a divorce lawyer have something to do with that? At first, Miranda bristled at the question, asking me, “What does that have to do with the billboards?” Although I half-expected this reaction, I was still a little surprised that he didn’t anticipate the question: a person who has never been married is not only peddling divorce, but doing so in jokey fashion. That he recognized my question as intrusive but didn’t see how billboards about something so private and painful might be construed as being in bad taste seemed to suggest some tone-deafness on his part.

Following this revelation, all of the tough talk — on billboards and in this office — started to feel like a caricature of real divorce, like a kindergartener’s rendition of what being an adult must feel like. Maybe that’s just showbiz. And admittedly, in some ways, a young marriage can feel the same way: naive, superficial. I have a distinct memory of wondering if my ex-husband and I were just “playing house,” whether we even truly knew and trusted one another.

Eventually, after I re-tooled the question a little, he chose to answer it, albeit more generally (read: diplomatically), speaking for divorce attorneys as a whole. “I think generally, [working in divorce law] does, and the ‘why’ part of that is because we have a front row seat to all of the acrimony and antics and fighting that occur between spouses when they are going through a divorce. We are also able to see those that are able to reach agreements, co-parent effectively, and resolve these cases by settlement. So you get a unique perspective as to how different people react to these types of situations, and you also, I think, vicariously are able to glean just better ways to deal with certain circumstances, relationships and otherwise. You are able to see the circumstances unfold when people are going through a divorce. So I think all divorce attorneys have probably learned from their clients’ mistakes and I’d like to think that that’s helped make them better in their own relationships.”

“Split Happens”

Being an attorney is a second career for Miranda, one which he has been at for eleven years. (That didn’t seem all that long, but then I remembered that eleven years was about the amount of time I would have been with my ex-husband had we not ended our marriage. Suddenly, it felt like an eternity.) “I had worked as an executive in the telecommunications industry,” he said. “I found myself always having a longing to be an attorney; that was probably shaped, in part, by the fact that I was chronically involved in regulatory issues and other legal things that made me think about maybe doing it for myself. I guess I had an aptitude for it and found it compelling. I did an online, part-time program — which was effectively self-teaching —while I was working at another telecommunications business. I got into family law because, when I started my career, I was working in criminal defense. One of the subsets of that was doing domestic violence, and restraining orders are conducted in the family court. I started doing some work there and I realized I enjoyed it. It was a lot of litigation and court appearances, things that I enjoy.”

In 2015 — the year my own three-year marriage ended, the year my then-husband packed up our two dogs and his belongings and drove across the country to retreat back to our home state of Connecticut — Miranda merged practices with Ilona Antonyan to form the Antonyan Miranda firm. In addition to family and divorce law, the firm offers estate and probate services. (They have billboards for that as well, notably a grinning skull in a top hat with the slogan, “Dead. Grateful.”)

And who is the mastermind behind the boards? Impressively, it’s Mr. Never-Been-Married himself: “I am primarily responsible for marketing. I will have an idea and try to find a way to encapsulate that idea in what we think would be an appropriate billboard — meaning, short on text, so it’s easy to read, and something that’s going to be evocative, so people will think about it. I will typically discuss with my business partner Ilona, and sometimes I’ll ask others here for their opinions. I do take unsolicited contributions from others. I hear quite a bit about it now; I have friends who offer suggestions, or other people we work with for other types of creative work, like photographers, who have ideas. But the bulk of it is internal, and it’s mostly just me.”

For all of the tough talk on the billboards and the “take no prisoners” mentality of the firm’s marketing, Tim Miranda was even-keeled and calm.

When asked if he has any background in writing or comedy, he smirked in a way that suggested pride at my insinuation, shook his head, and simply replied, “No.” So no formal experience, either in comedy or divorce — again, impressive. He described his creative process: “Because I am a full-time attorney with a full-time caseload, the inspiration often comes when I have a moment to stop and think. I have to have some kind of pause in the action to be able to then activate my creative side. So, usually, it would be on the weekend, or a time when I don’t have court or any matters that are pressing. I’ll just start thinking about where we are in the season, or things that are going on. I typically will come up with several ideas in one sitting, and then I will sketch those out so I have some sort of graphical interpretation of what I want to do. Then I will typically confer with other people to get their opinions, or I will just come back to it later and consider it again.”

Miranda said that the holiday ones tend to be the most popular, like “Cinco de bye-o,” tax season’s “Death and Exes,” and the cozy “Thanksleaving” But, he added, “I like them all, because I think they were inspired and had meaning at that particular time.”

“Where we are in the season” translated, last Christmastime, to a billboard that simply read, “Ho.” Particularly incendiary? Miranda didn’t think so. “By and large, some people think that anything you advertise that deals with a sensitive topic — divorce, domestic violence — is just in poor taste or should not be something that is mass-marketed. I think because of the eclectic constituency here in this county, some people just have different sensibilities and perceptions of what people should be advertising or not advertising. I think that if someone has that perspective in general — that communicating a message such as we do is offensive — then it really doesn’t matter what the creative content is. It’s still communicating that message, so it still has that impact. We certainly don’t do this to offend anybody. If you consider the divorce rate in Southern California, and then probate — it’s just a natural process, someone’s estate is being probated when they pass — we just don’t think the subject matter is objectively offensive. And we just try to put some kind of humorous spin on it to take some stigma out of it.”

We talked about the firm’s newest mascot, “Skully,” that top-hatted skull who represents their probate law practice. “We wanted something that would be a little more festive, more of a celebration. If you are looking at death like Day of the Dead in Mexico and other Latin American countries, [death] isn’t necessarily a negative incident. Again, we are compelling people to think about it, but in a way that isn’t going to be too polarizing.”

At that moment, we both realized he was gazing over my shoulder. He caught himself: “Sorry, I was actually looking at the TV; we have some of the billboards scrolling there behind you.” Ah, the artist beholden by his art. I feigned surprise and pretended to notice the TV for the first time. He steadied his gaze and continued: “And that’s just the way we do things here, by the way. When you walked in here — the elevator lobby, the vivid graphics — this is not a traditional type of firm, with, you know, wood paneling and parchment letterhead. We do things differently here.”

Advertising is suggestion. Booze advertisers will tell you that they’re just pitching their brand, but they’re also pitching the pleasures of drink. I confronted Miranda with the suggestion that his billboards could be construed as encouraging — or at least making light of — the decision to divorce. In particular, I brought up the “Baby I’m Bored” billboard, in part because it was a complaint that came up in my own first marriage quite often. I have a very clear memory of sitting in silence across from my ex at dinner at a then-new restaurant in OB, thinking what a cool place this was, and how I would rather be there with anyone but him because our relationship had become so boring. Wondering if that was a good enough reason to leave someone. Miranda replied, “I would think that if you were in a relationship, especially a marriage, that was that tenuous that you saw a billboard that was obvious jest and that somehow was the compulsion for you to want to get a divorce — I wouldn’t buy that. I don’t think that’s credible. I would assume that if you are in a relationship and wanted to get a divorce, and you were dissatisfied, and you saw that, then it might compel you to contact us or remember us, but I can’t see that being a precipitating factor to getting a divorce. I would like to think the messaging was that strong, but I don’t think it is.”

I tend to disagree. I tend to think the subtle, pervasive permission offered by these billboards is metastatic, very much akin to those alcohol advertisements in which everyone is laughing and having the time of their lives. The ads never show morning after, the remorse, the drunk dials — the real life version. But the bombardment of those drinky ads sends the same message over and over: this is normal, this is fun, and you should be doing it. And if you don’t or can’t, maybe it’s because you are broken or wrong. So if you’re married and you’re bored…

We descended into more mundane considerations. Miranda chose not to share with me exactly how much the firm drops on the billboard campaign monthly or annually, and the city’s three biggest billboard peddlers — Lamar, Outfront and Clear Channel — could not be reached for comment on pricing. As for selecting locations, Miranda said, “It’s based on a variety of factors, like availability. There are some advertisers that have national contracts and other billboards never seem to be available. I think obviously we look at high visibility — eyeballs — so, freeways and things like that. If you are doing a campaign that is in Spanish, like it includes a Spanish URL, then you would probably place it in a community where there would be a higher population of Spanish-speaking residents. Above all, you want to have a good mix geographically, so you can get to as many corners of the county as possible.” When asked what’s next for the firm in the way of creative advertisements, he said only that “people can continue to expect really good billboards that make people think.” Think about what? I wondered. Think about if they should up-end their entire lives?

As we wound up our time together, I saw myself out of the conference room and its half month’s rent worth of chairs. Just outside the room, a white “Antonyan Miranda” surfboard was propped up next to a case of what looked to be merch: an array of backpacks, hats, lanyards, T-shirts and mugs covered in brass knuckles, hammers, fists and “Skully.” Indeed, Antonyan Miranda offers “swag” through their website; 100% of the proceeds go to the Antonyan Miranda Foundation, which is “composed of children of divorce, children of immigrants and children of less than ideal socioeconomic circumstances,” and seeks to support children and young adults experiencing hardship in their educational endeavors and to encourage them to “think big about their future potential.”

The last thing I saw before I exited back into the brightly colored vestibule was a collection of four “Golden Sledgehammer” awards, an internal recognition for attorneys who have done outstanding work — colloquially, “For hammering the competition.” The award is a glossy black plaque, the firm’s AM logo laser etched in gold in the top left, the recipient’s name in the bottom right. The sledgehammer’s head is, naturally, painted gold; the entire thing is mounted on the plaque and — I had to lean in to see it, but there it was — has the following engraved on the handle: “Do you want to sleep, or do you want to win?”

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Miranda estimates that they have about twenty billboards up around the county right now. With regulations capping San Diego at just under 600 allowable billboards, this means that these flippant, sometimes confrontational ads make up about 3% of all available billboard space in San Diego.
Miranda estimates that they have about twenty billboards up around the county right now. With regulations capping San Diego at just under 600 allowable billboards, this means that these flippant, sometimes confrontational ads make up about 3% of all available billboard space in San Diego.

Five months into my recent nuptials, I found myself in something of an ominous place, matrimonially speaking: on the 21st floor of the downtown Emerald Plaza, which houses the law office of popular divorce law firm Antonyan Miranda. You know the one: right now, they’re advertising themselves as having been “Voted Best Wedding Planner,” on billboards along various San Diego highways. They’ve got another one reading “Size Mattered,” which might not be as crude as it sounds: perhaps it means that the wife grew unhappy with the husband’s meager income, or that the husband was displeased with his wife’s weight gain. Perhaps.

As I stepped out of the elevator into the almost overwhelming, brightly painted vestibule, I read the phrases on the wall: “Protect yourself at all times,” “The ring comes off, the gloves come off,” and “Avoid Mediocrity.” That last one seemed cryptic: surely a failed marriage was a mediocre result? But then, maybe not as mediocre as getting a lousy deal in the divorce. I reached for the door to the reception area and was surprised to find it locked. Visions of angry exes, the kind who had failed to avoid mediocrity and were out for revenge, flashed in my mind.

The receptionist’s voice crackled over the intercom: “How can I help you?” I told her I was there for an appointment with Mr. Miranda. After confirming this, she swiftly granted me access. I was greeted warmly, shown to the nearest conference room, and offered a beverage.

I was relieved to find that the world inside the locked doors felt a lot different from the one outside. The conference room was comfortable and light-filled, offering sweeping views of the harbor and downtown San Diego. Not a bad place to start one of the most tumultuous events of your life, I thought to myself. And I would know; this wasn’t my first time being a newlywed. I knew, intimately, the shell shock that sets in once you realize the honeymoon can’t last forever, that marriage is more than just an unending two-person party, that maybe you’ve made a terrible mistake. But even on the inside, there were hints of the attitude behind those vestibular phrases, and those billboards: a cluster of pens resting in a branded mug, the handle of which was a set of brass knuckles. The mug sat next to a box of tissues and a dish of chocolates; this struck me as emblematic of the place’s vibe: tough or sweet, depending what side you were on. The pens, surprisingly, were emblazoned only with the firm’s logo and not some aggressive phrase about things mightier than swords. Can’t all be winners. I took a swig out of my complimentary Antonyan Miranda water bottle and leaned back in one of the room’s eight $200 ergonomic chairs.

As I swiveled to the left, I noticed a large, mounted TV, the sole purpose of which seemed to be the display of an infinite loop of their popular billboards: the classic raised ring finger flanked by “Antonyan Miranda” and “expertdivorcelaw.com,” the stick figure heading for the door over the web address divorciandose.com, the blunt “Split Happens.” I zoned out as the cascade of slides washed over me, and started thinking about how there weren’t many things less humorous than divorce — than the grief that comes with realizing your vision of “forever” is not going to pan out. If only it were as simple as merely heading for the exit sign, rather than navigating who gets the kids or dogs, or saying goodbye to your second set of parents (who may possibly hate you forever now). “Split happens,” sure, but just because something is commonplace does not make it any less painful.

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And of course, the pain doesn’t end at the “split;” it echoes for years, rising up and surprising you at the most bizarre moments. Not long after my own divorce, I found myself in pigeon pose during a yoga class in Ocean Beach, suddenly overwhelmed with nostalgia for a night in with my husband, sitting on the couch, just drinking wine and watching our favorite shows. The better times. As I breathed downward into my yoga mat, tears gathering in the corners of my eyes, I wondered: Do I miss him? Or just the idea of him? Will I be alone forever? Am I damaged goods? Was the mistake not marrying him, but leaving him? Do I need to cancel my yoga membership?

Thankfully, and despite the apparent permission I was being granted by those looped billboards, I was not in this office to seek another divorce. I was there to talk to the man behind these messages. Tim Miranda, founding partner and litigation trial attorney at Antonyan Miranda, estimates that they have about twenty billboards up around the county right now. With regulations capping San Diego at just under 600 allowable billboards, this means that these flippant, sometimes confrontational ads make up about 3% of all available billboard space in San Diego.

“Baby I’m Bored”

“We have had people that express their distaste for them,” said Miranda, seated across from me in a perfectly tailored black suit contrasted by a yellow and brown plaid shirt — no tie. This intriguing ensemble fell in line with the rest of my dichotomous experience thus far. For all of the tough talk on the billboards and the “take no prisoners” mentality of the firm’s marketing, this guy was even-keeled and calm. The tough exterior indicated by the suit was belied by the jovial yellow shirt underneath. “Fortunately, there are more people that seem to express adulation for them; they like the creativity, and at least the humor. But there is a small percentage of people that have indicated they don’t like it, sent an email or left a message, something to that effect.” Asked for specifics, he demurred, “I really don’t want to dignify the criticism or that type of response,” but I didn’t detect any animosity in his tone.

The first billboard went up in 2019, just before covid. “The idea of a billboard in the abstract was to gain awareness of the type of work we do; it’s not necessarily a field of law the everybody talks about, although there is quite a bit of divorce and family law in the state of California — particularly in Southern California — so it was really just a way of expanding our marketing footprint into somewhat of a non-traditional medium.” Prior to the billboards, the firm primarily marketed through more “organic” methods: referrals, word-of-mouth, pay-per-click ads. By and large, those still remain the firm’s primary source of business — “the billboards are just an adjunct marketing campaign.”

It’s hard for me to hold the terms “marketing” and “divorce” together in my head without wincing — it’s almost as if marriage itself were a commodity. But Miranda noted that while his billboards were unusual in one way, they were common in another. “I think that when somebody typically has a need [for a divorce attorney], then they will start to do research, which includes asking around and things like that. It seems like the majority of advertisements are about personal injury and other areas. Maybe because it’s more palatable, I’m not sure. I think there is also just some general distaste for attorneys that advertise through mediums such as billboards, and some people just don’t like attorney advertising at all.”

“Cinco de bye-o”

When I was going through my own determination of “irreconcilable differences” — that’s the official term used on my divorce decree — “adjunct marketing campaign” was not a term that I would ever have associated with the experience. This might be because my ex and I did not shop around for high-end lawyers; he simply used a family friend who was an attorney — the business motto was “Remember the Alimony,” so maybe some marketing was at play, after all — drew up some papers, and sent them to me in the mail. The whole thing cost me $25, the price of my own copy of the divorce decree.

Even so, I remember it being a stressful hassle and that it took me some time to figure out a loophole regarding notarization in California. When I finally did, and proudly e-mailed his attorney to let him know that I had just put the papers in the mail, he responded: “You don’t have to send anything to the clerk’s office. The divorce is done and over with” Exactly like that. Not even the dignity of a period at the end of the sentence that unceremoniously changed my life forever.

The world dissolved in that moment, like a room’s four walls collapsing away from me. Actually, and maybe oddly, that’s also how it felt when the man who was now my ex proposed to me, four years earlier. It was one of those moments when you know nothing will be the same ever again. I forwarded the unpunctuated e-mail to my ex with a simple, uncapitalized “what?” and he responded that he had gone to court the week prior, that everything was completed (read: I had unknowingly been a bona fide divorcee for a week already), and that any future correspondence should go through his attorney. And just like that..split happened.

I asked Miranda why Southern California was such a hotbed for family law. He replied, “I can’t really pin that down for sure, because I haven’t been divorced.” When he said “never been divorced,” he also meant that he’s never been married. Could being a divorce lawyer have something to do with that? At first, Miranda bristled at the question, asking me, “What does that have to do with the billboards?” Although I half-expected this reaction, I was still a little surprised that he didn’t anticipate the question: a person who has never been married is not only peddling divorce, but doing so in jokey fashion. That he recognized my question as intrusive but didn’t see how billboards about something so private and painful might be construed as being in bad taste seemed to suggest some tone-deafness on his part.

Following this revelation, all of the tough talk — on billboards and in this office — started to feel like a caricature of real divorce, like a kindergartener’s rendition of what being an adult must feel like. Maybe that’s just showbiz. And admittedly, in some ways, a young marriage can feel the same way: naive, superficial. I have a distinct memory of wondering if my ex-husband and I were just “playing house,” whether we even truly knew and trusted one another.

Eventually, after I re-tooled the question a little, he chose to answer it, albeit more generally (read: diplomatically), speaking for divorce attorneys as a whole. “I think generally, [working in divorce law] does, and the ‘why’ part of that is because we have a front row seat to all of the acrimony and antics and fighting that occur between spouses when they are going through a divorce. We are also able to see those that are able to reach agreements, co-parent effectively, and resolve these cases by settlement. So you get a unique perspective as to how different people react to these types of situations, and you also, I think, vicariously are able to glean just better ways to deal with certain circumstances, relationships and otherwise. You are able to see the circumstances unfold when people are going through a divorce. So I think all divorce attorneys have probably learned from their clients’ mistakes and I’d like to think that that’s helped make them better in their own relationships.”

“Split Happens”

Being an attorney is a second career for Miranda, one which he has been at for eleven years. (That didn’t seem all that long, but then I remembered that eleven years was about the amount of time I would have been with my ex-husband had we not ended our marriage. Suddenly, it felt like an eternity.) “I had worked as an executive in the telecommunications industry,” he said. “I found myself always having a longing to be an attorney; that was probably shaped, in part, by the fact that I was chronically involved in regulatory issues and other legal things that made me think about maybe doing it for myself. I guess I had an aptitude for it and found it compelling. I did an online, part-time program — which was effectively self-teaching —while I was working at another telecommunications business. I got into family law because, when I started my career, I was working in criminal defense. One of the subsets of that was doing domestic violence, and restraining orders are conducted in the family court. I started doing some work there and I realized I enjoyed it. It was a lot of litigation and court appearances, things that I enjoy.”

In 2015 — the year my own three-year marriage ended, the year my then-husband packed up our two dogs and his belongings and drove across the country to retreat back to our home state of Connecticut — Miranda merged practices with Ilona Antonyan to form the Antonyan Miranda firm. In addition to family and divorce law, the firm offers estate and probate services. (They have billboards for that as well, notably a grinning skull in a top hat with the slogan, “Dead. Grateful.”)

And who is the mastermind behind the boards? Impressively, it’s Mr. Never-Been-Married himself: “I am primarily responsible for marketing. I will have an idea and try to find a way to encapsulate that idea in what we think would be an appropriate billboard — meaning, short on text, so it’s easy to read, and something that’s going to be evocative, so people will think about it. I will typically discuss with my business partner Ilona, and sometimes I’ll ask others here for their opinions. I do take unsolicited contributions from others. I hear quite a bit about it now; I have friends who offer suggestions, or other people we work with for other types of creative work, like photographers, who have ideas. But the bulk of it is internal, and it’s mostly just me.”

For all of the tough talk on the billboards and the “take no prisoners” mentality of the firm’s marketing, Tim Miranda was even-keeled and calm.

When asked if he has any background in writing or comedy, he smirked in a way that suggested pride at my insinuation, shook his head, and simply replied, “No.” So no formal experience, either in comedy or divorce — again, impressive. He described his creative process: “Because I am a full-time attorney with a full-time caseload, the inspiration often comes when I have a moment to stop and think. I have to have some kind of pause in the action to be able to then activate my creative side. So, usually, it would be on the weekend, or a time when I don’t have court or any matters that are pressing. I’ll just start thinking about where we are in the season, or things that are going on. I typically will come up with several ideas in one sitting, and then I will sketch those out so I have some sort of graphical interpretation of what I want to do. Then I will typically confer with other people to get their opinions, or I will just come back to it later and consider it again.”

Miranda said that the holiday ones tend to be the most popular, like “Cinco de bye-o,” tax season’s “Death and Exes,” and the cozy “Thanksleaving” But, he added, “I like them all, because I think they were inspired and had meaning at that particular time.”

“Where we are in the season” translated, last Christmastime, to a billboard that simply read, “Ho.” Particularly incendiary? Miranda didn’t think so. “By and large, some people think that anything you advertise that deals with a sensitive topic — divorce, domestic violence — is just in poor taste or should not be something that is mass-marketed. I think because of the eclectic constituency here in this county, some people just have different sensibilities and perceptions of what people should be advertising or not advertising. I think that if someone has that perspective in general — that communicating a message such as we do is offensive — then it really doesn’t matter what the creative content is. It’s still communicating that message, so it still has that impact. We certainly don’t do this to offend anybody. If you consider the divorce rate in Southern California, and then probate — it’s just a natural process, someone’s estate is being probated when they pass — we just don’t think the subject matter is objectively offensive. And we just try to put some kind of humorous spin on it to take some stigma out of it.”

We talked about the firm’s newest mascot, “Skully,” that top-hatted skull who represents their probate law practice. “We wanted something that would be a little more festive, more of a celebration. If you are looking at death like Day of the Dead in Mexico and other Latin American countries, [death] isn’t necessarily a negative incident. Again, we are compelling people to think about it, but in a way that isn’t going to be too polarizing.”

At that moment, we both realized he was gazing over my shoulder. He caught himself: “Sorry, I was actually looking at the TV; we have some of the billboards scrolling there behind you.” Ah, the artist beholden by his art. I feigned surprise and pretended to notice the TV for the first time. He steadied his gaze and continued: “And that’s just the way we do things here, by the way. When you walked in here — the elevator lobby, the vivid graphics — this is not a traditional type of firm, with, you know, wood paneling and parchment letterhead. We do things differently here.”

Advertising is suggestion. Booze advertisers will tell you that they’re just pitching their brand, but they’re also pitching the pleasures of drink. I confronted Miranda with the suggestion that his billboards could be construed as encouraging — or at least making light of — the decision to divorce. In particular, I brought up the “Baby I’m Bored” billboard, in part because it was a complaint that came up in my own first marriage quite often. I have a very clear memory of sitting in silence across from my ex at dinner at a then-new restaurant in OB, thinking what a cool place this was, and how I would rather be there with anyone but him because our relationship had become so boring. Wondering if that was a good enough reason to leave someone. Miranda replied, “I would think that if you were in a relationship, especially a marriage, that was that tenuous that you saw a billboard that was obvious jest and that somehow was the compulsion for you to want to get a divorce — I wouldn’t buy that. I don’t think that’s credible. I would assume that if you are in a relationship and wanted to get a divorce, and you were dissatisfied, and you saw that, then it might compel you to contact us or remember us, but I can’t see that being a precipitating factor to getting a divorce. I would like to think the messaging was that strong, but I don’t think it is.”

I tend to disagree. I tend to think the subtle, pervasive permission offered by these billboards is metastatic, very much akin to those alcohol advertisements in which everyone is laughing and having the time of their lives. The ads never show morning after, the remorse, the drunk dials — the real life version. But the bombardment of those drinky ads sends the same message over and over: this is normal, this is fun, and you should be doing it. And if you don’t or can’t, maybe it’s because you are broken or wrong. So if you’re married and you’re bored…

We descended into more mundane considerations. Miranda chose not to share with me exactly how much the firm drops on the billboard campaign monthly or annually, and the city’s three biggest billboard peddlers — Lamar, Outfront and Clear Channel — could not be reached for comment on pricing. As for selecting locations, Miranda said, “It’s based on a variety of factors, like availability. There are some advertisers that have national contracts and other billboards never seem to be available. I think obviously we look at high visibility — eyeballs — so, freeways and things like that. If you are doing a campaign that is in Spanish, like it includes a Spanish URL, then you would probably place it in a community where there would be a higher population of Spanish-speaking residents. Above all, you want to have a good mix geographically, so you can get to as many corners of the county as possible.” When asked what’s next for the firm in the way of creative advertisements, he said only that “people can continue to expect really good billboards that make people think.” Think about what? I wondered. Think about if they should up-end their entire lives?

As we wound up our time together, I saw myself out of the conference room and its half month’s rent worth of chairs. Just outside the room, a white “Antonyan Miranda” surfboard was propped up next to a case of what looked to be merch: an array of backpacks, hats, lanyards, T-shirts and mugs covered in brass knuckles, hammers, fists and “Skully.” Indeed, Antonyan Miranda offers “swag” through their website; 100% of the proceeds go to the Antonyan Miranda Foundation, which is “composed of children of divorce, children of immigrants and children of less than ideal socioeconomic circumstances,” and seeks to support children and young adults experiencing hardship in their educational endeavors and to encourage them to “think big about their future potential.”

The last thing I saw before I exited back into the brightly colored vestibule was a collection of four “Golden Sledgehammer” awards, an internal recognition for attorneys who have done outstanding work — colloquially, “For hammering the competition.” The award is a glossy black plaque, the firm’s AM logo laser etched in gold in the top left, the recipient’s name in the bottom right. The sledgehammer’s head is, naturally, painted gold; the entire thing is mounted on the plaque and — I had to lean in to see it, but there it was — has the following engraved on the handle: “Do you want to sleep, or do you want to win?”

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