Model Rules Prevent Attorneys from Soliciting Business In Person
Did you know that it's unlawful for an attorney to actively solicit business in person? The laws regarding attorney marketing are restrictive due to the recognition, on behalf of the Bar Association, the board responsible for setting the regulations that govern the profession, that attorneys are in a position of trust. In order to prevent the appearance of impropriety or to allow for opportunities in which attorneys might possibly take advantage of their position, the American Bar Association, and most if not all state bars, set stringent rules regarding attorney contact with potential clients.
The American Bar Associations Model Rule regarding prospective client contact appears below:
Rule 7.3 Direct Contact With Prospective Clients
(a) A lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment from a prospective client when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted:
(1) is a lawyer; or
(2) has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.
(b) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment from a prospective client by written, recorded or electronic communication or by in-person, telephone or real-time electronic contact even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (a), if:
(1) the prospective client has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer; or
(2) the solicitation involves coercion, duress or harassment.
[you can find the rule in its entirety here]
Thus, you will note, attorneys cannot contact prospective clients in person at all. Whether in person, on the phone, or in any other live-time contact. This has been construed to include inside chatrooms or other instant message type contact.
The two main exceptions to this rule have to do with the person being contacted. Prior clients, friends, and other attorneys can be solicited in person.
Additionally, attorneys can contact potential clients if the primary motivation is not for monetary gain. This means that attorneys can engage in this sort of "live" contact if it is mostly or solely for the purpose of informing people of their rights or other public interest sorts of motives. For example, an attorney in a chat room that is generally informing victims of domestic violence of their rights, for the purpose of empowering them to seek justice, is most likely not engaged in prohibited behavior.
It is important to note, however, that there are separate rules in place regarding taking advantage of people in sensitive situations such as following automobile accidents, for example. In California, for example, "ambulance chasing" can land an attorney in jail, in addition to being on the hook for massive fines.
The second part of the rule seems in accordance with basic logic. Whether through in person or written contact, attorneys cannot solicit prospective clients, even when not forbidden by the first part of the rule, if the person has stated a desire not to be contacted, or if the contact involves some type of coercion or harassment.
Contrary to many lawyer jokes, the profession does have a sincere desire to help people. Rules like this one are meant to create an infrastructure that prevents situations in which ethical missteps might be possible.
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