This is a great thread. Glad I posted it!
@Darren - do you mean you've actually seen businesses rank for stuff like "personal injury lawyer + city" organically using a city page? I see this work well in tons of industries but not Personal Injury Law because the directories are so dang competitive and good that it's almost impossible to beat them. FindLaw, Avvo, Lawyers.com, Yelp, and a few others just dominate the top organic for almost every city. Is your strategy just to go after long tail? Then there is the question of "what" long tail to go after that other PI lawyers have not already done.
@Darren if you can do that for PI attorneys in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, you're my hero.
I agree with you Joy. I work with quite a few PI attorneys and in competitive cities I wouldn't even try a simple city page because I know it would not work. Most of the competition have SEOs working for them, so you're essentially getting into a long distance race in which everyone else had a 10 year head start -- besides the fact that they are much more relevant than someone who is not really in that city. It would take much more than that. But if Darren can do it, then I stand corrected and will probably pass him some work.
The problem with going after the long tail is you're generally talking about top of the funnel informational queries that are not geo-specific and so your article is competing in the SERPS with similar ones throughout the nation. If you're talking about phrases like "boat accident attorney San Diego," those usually have been gobbled up by the real locals, and so those are hard to rank for as well.
My good buddy and great SEO, Ted Ives, likens rank to an oil shortage - there just isn't enough to go around, and there is no other industry than PI attorneys for which that is more true. I'm with PMmborgelt's recommendation that making them really strong in one area is better than limping by in 50 others.