What to do when legal vultures descend on you after a tragic accident

This morning I met with a family who suffered a tragic loss when a tractor trailer ran over the parents late in 2008.  The mother was killed and the father seriously injured. 

They got me involved a couple of weeks after the crash when one of the sons found me on the Internet and invited me to meet with the family.  We put our rapid response strategy to work and are now on the brink of settling the case for all available insurance policy limits. 

Because I agreed to reduce my contingent fee to 20% if we settled within the first 60 days after delivery of the demand package to the defendant and insurance company, it turns out to be a win-win situation for everyone, with quick closure on the most favorable possible terms for the family.

In our conversation today, they told me about being deluged with calls from "grief counselors" and "patient counselors" asking if they had a lawyer yet —  while dad was in still in the hospital trauma unit. These “counselors” were obviously sleazy "runners" seeking to solicit the case for legal vultures.

When they got home a few days later, even before mom’s funeral, they had a package in the mail from a law firm out of state, soliciting the case.

Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3, regarding Direct Contact with Prospective Clients, provides in part:

(a) A lawyer shall not send, or knowingly permit to be sent, on behalf of the lawyer, the lawyer’s firm, lawyer’s partner, associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm, a written communication to a prospective client for the purpose of obtaining professional employment if: . . .

(3) the written communication concerns an action for personal injury or wrongful death or otherwise relates to an accident or disaster involving the person to whom the communication is addressed or a relative of that person, unless the accident or disaster occurred more than 30 days prior to the mailing of the communication; or

(4) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the physical, emotional or mental state of the person is such that the person could not exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer.

(b) Written communications to a prospective client, other than a close friend, relative, former client or one whom the lawyer reasonably believes is a former client, for the purpose of obtaining professional employment shall be plainly marked "Advertisement" on the face of the envelope and on the top of each page of the written communication in type size no smaller than the largest type size used in the body of the letter.

(c) A lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value to a person or organization to recommend or secure the lawyer’s employment by a client, or as a reward for having made a recommendation resulting in the lawyer’s employment by a client; except that the lawyer may pay for public communications permitted by Rule 7.1 and except  . . .  [the exceptions do not include use of "runners" to solicit injury and death cases.]

(d) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment as a private practitioner for the lawyer, a partner or associate through direct personal contact or through live telephone contact, with a non-lawyer who has not sought advice regarding employment of a lawyer.

(e) A lawyer shall not accept employment when the lawyer knows or it is obvious that the person who seeks to employ the lawyer does so as a result of conduct by any person or organization prohibited under Rules 7.3(c)(1), 7.3(c)(2) or 7.3(d): Direct Contact with Prospective Clients.

The maximum penalty for a violation of this Rule is disbarment.

One of the weaknesses of the organized bar has been the lack of effective means of enforcing these rules against improper solicitation.  If no one files a grievance against the offenders, nothing can be done. A lot of this behavior is simply never reported and therefore never addressed.

I will take the information from these clients and prepare grievances against any attorneys we can identify who participated in improper solicitation.  If they are in other states and made such solicitations in Georgia, we will urge reciprocal discipline in their home states.

If you are solicited for a personal injury or wrongful death case by a phone call or other direct contact  from an "investigator," "grief counselor" or "patient counselor," there is a very high probability that it is an unethical and illegal solicitation on behalf of a lawyer or law firm who does not mind breaking the ethical rules. 

Do you really want to entrust your case to someone like that? 

If you are solicited about your injury or death case, you may consider doing the following:

  • Immediately call the General Counsel of the State Bar and report the improper solicitation. The phone number of the General Counsel of the State Bar of Georgia is 404-527-8720.
  • Offer to assist in investigation of this misconduct and to file a formal grievance against any lawyer who can be proven to be participating in improper solicitation.
  • If you ask, and if the provable facts support it, I will assist without charge in drafting a formal grievance against any lawyer who solicits you in violation of the Rules, even if you do not hire me for your injury case. (I cannot intrude on the confidential Bar disciplinary process, but  I can assist in drafting your grievance.)
  • If you need a lawyer for a personal injury or wrongful death case, make your selection on the basis of your own research about professional experience and qualifications, and recommendations by knowledgeable people whom you know and trust, rather than slick advertising or someone soliciting you directly.
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    This is such a serious situation. Very sad.

  • I think this article should be known by every family there is. This is indeed a serious situation. Arming people with awareness against shady practices would be the best way to curb these. Personal injury lawyers in their right mind won’t stoop to this level.
    Well said, Ken.