Whenever tragic events make headlines, an unfortunate aftermath sometimes involves personal injury lawyers breaking the law in order to try to sign up a case or solicit a client. Texas and other states have strict laws prohibiting certain conduct by lawyers called solicitation and barratry. The laws can be in the form of criminal statutes passed by legislators as well as ethical rules that lawyers are required to follow.
In-Person or Live-Telephone Contact
Lawyers are prohibited from initiating in-person contact or live-telephone calls (as opposed to automated, recorded phone calls) with people involved in a crash or their family members. In other words, the prospective client must initiate the contact with the attorney; not the other way around. This prohibition extends to non-lawyers as well. People who work for a lawyer or otherwise who can gain from referring the case to a lawyer are similarly prohibited from initiating in-person or telephone contact with prospective clients.
If you or a loved one has been involved in a crash, watch out for anyone you don’t know contacting you either by phone or unannounced in-person visits, including at your house, your place of employment or at the hospital. Often times these people will lie to you and claim to be a grief counselor, a funeral home employee, or even a medical provider like a nurse or doctor. This contact is illegal, unethical, and disgusting; and it is these lawyers that give other lawyers a bad name. You have the right to refuse to speak to these people, and you should report them immediately to the police and the relevant state bar association.
Letters or Other Written Communications
There are several very specific rules that must be followed if a lawyer sends a letter or other written communication to a potential client after a crash or disaster. In Texas and many other states, the lawyer must wait 30 days after the crash before sending any such letter. Furthermore, the letter must be marked “ADVERTISING” on the envelope or mailer, as well as conspicuously on the first page of the letter. These rules protect not only people who have been involved in crashes, but also their family members, especially in the case of a wrongful death.
If you’ve received a letter from an attorney about a specific matter and you think it might violate the ethics rules, we encourage you to report it to the state bar.