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Those against the ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyer solicitation legislation please step forward?

Only one lawyer, Steven Matz, says bill is intended to prevent his Matz and Pietsch law firm from ‘staying in business’

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The proposed  lawyer solicitation legislation contained in HB 4770 and HB 4771 that’s aimed at protecting auto accident victims from intrusive, aggressive and overreaching mail and phone solicitations from certain lawyers and law firms in Michigan has almost universal support.

Those supporting  House Bills 4770 and 4771 include:

  • Democrats and Republicans (HB 4770 and 4771 were passed by the Michigan House of Representatives on October 9, 2013, by a vote of 98 in favor and 10 opposed);
  • Plaintiffs’ (personal injury lawyers) and defense and insurance lawyers;
  • The Michigan Association for Justice;
  • The Negligence Section of the State Bar of Michigan;
  • The Michigan State Police;
  • The Insurance Institute of Michigan;
  • The Michigan Insurance Coalition.

But the support is not universal.

It turns out that there is one person who opposes this legislation.  Personal injury lawyer Steven Matz of Matz & Pietsch, P.C., in Southfield, Michigan, testified recently against the Michigan Legislature passing HB 4770 and 4771.

I try to keep an open mind, even though as readers of my own legal blog already know, I’ve been a very strong and vocal supporter of this legislation.  I see it as an important measure to protect auto accident victims from abuse.

I do not know Steve Matz personally.  He probably is a very nice person.  And I do not know anything about his ability as a lawyer.  I am sure he is a very fine lawyer.  But I was curious why he and his law firm are the only ones in the entire state of Michigan opposing efforts to limit attorney solicitation of auto accident victims.

So I read his written testimony that he submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee for its November 5, 2013, hearing on HB 4770 and 4771.

I wanted to know why he, and he alone, opposes efforts to protect auto accident victims by placing a 30 day limit on lawyer solicitations of people injured in car accidents.

I was surprised by what I read.

Why Matz and Pietsch oppose HB 4770?

Steve Matz, it turns out, opposes for HB 4770 and 4771 because he believes HB 4770 and 4771 are part of a conspiracy by his legal competitors to “prevent” him and his law firm “from staying in business,” according to written testimony he submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee for its November 5, 2013, hearing on HB 4770 and 4771.

This is a very different reason from the letter he personally wrote to me many months ago when he asked me to stop my outspoken support for this legislation.

And it is a very different from the reasons he gave the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ) when he wrote an email on the list serve asking other plaintiff personal injury lawyers to support him in opposing efforts to limit attorney solicitation (the MAJ, it should be noted, has come out in favor of this legislation because it feels this behavior lowers the image of the legal profession and harms accident victims).

Speaking for myself – although I think many of the  supporters of HB 4770 and 4771 identified above would also agree with me – Steve Matz could not be more wrong.

HB 4770 and 4771 are not about him, his law firm of Matz and Pietsch, or the competition that exists today in Michigan among many personal injury attorneys for cases.

As Rep. Joseph Graves (R-51st District) stated in his July 9, 2013, guest blog post on the Michigan Auto Law blog, the purpose of HB 4770 and 4771 is as follows:

“People injured in accidents who are on the road to recovery have enough to worry about without being badgered by overaggressive solicitation by a variety of service industry’s including lawyers, medical clinics and so-called victim advocacy groups. That’s why I introduced legislation in the Michigan House of Representatives as part of a package of three bills that give accident victims a 30-day recovery period before police accident reports are made public. This legislation will provide victims and their family members ample time in which to recover from the initial shock of the wreck before having to make very important decisions about future legal and medical issues. These unethical individuals prey on accident victims within hours of a wreck by taking information from police reports and flooding victims with mail, phone calls or even brazenly knocking on the doors of their homes under the guise of compassion. In actuality, they troll police stations and websites in an attempt to gather accident information and drum up business. Families don’t need that kind of pressure when they are trying to cope with the ramifications of a serious accident.”

Can’t compete with lower attorney fees? Really?

In his written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Matz insists the driving force behind HB 4770 and 4771 is the fact that his legal competitors in Michigan – presumably the other plaintiff personal injury attorneys who also handle car accident cases – can’t compete with the lower attorney contingency-fee that Matz and his law firm charge to clients (22% rather than the customary 33 1/3 %):

“No plaintiff personal injury attorney in the State of Michigan wants to compete with a law firm that only charges 22% as an attorney fee.”

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“[I]t is understandable that plaintiff trial lawyers would support any legislation that would prevent a law firm that charges 22% from staying in business. That is the effect of this legislation.”

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Additionally, Matz contends, the reason that HB 4770 and 4771 go after the mail-solicitation of auto accident victims is because mail-solicitation of potential clients is what has allowed Steve Matz and his law firm to get auto accident cases:

“We are the only firm that charges 22% [as an attorney fee] and the only reason we have been able to reduce our fee is that we can cost efficiently attract potential clients through direct mail advertising …”

Referring to HB 4770 and 4771, Matz concludes that “[t]hese laws” will ensure that “mass advertising lawyers” and other personal injury lawyers will:

“[N]o longer have to compete with the attorneys [such as Matz and his law firm] who advertise by mail and consequently, charge a lower fee.”

A copy of Matz’s written testimony can be found on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s “Minutes and Testimony” web page, under “Available Testimony For Judiciary, Nov 5, 2013.”

To date, Matz and his partner, Samuel H. Pietsch, are the only two attorneys who have opposed HB 4770 and 4771. In fact, they are the only two individuals (including all legal organizations such as the State Bar) that have gone on record to oppose HB 4770 and 4771.

Why protections against attorney solicitation of auto accident victims are necessary

You can read my arguments and why I support this legislation in my column in Michigan Lawyers Weekly and in my 5-Point Plan to Protect Accident Victims from Ambulance Chasing Lawyers.

Steve Matz raises one final argument. In addition the concerns discussed above, Matz insisted in his written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee that HB 4770 and 4771 were unnecessary under existing Michigan law. In particular, he claimed that “MCL 750.410 already makes solicitation a crime” and “criminalizes those who would participate in indirect solicitation.”

It’s true that the language in MCL 750.410 appears to prohibit the intrusive, aggressive and overreaching mail-solicitation by “ambulance chasing” lawyers in Michigan that HB 4770 and 4771 aim to stop.

But, as Matz already knows, the Michigan Court of Appeals in Woll v. Kelly in 1982 has ruled that “mass mailings,” such as those that Matz and his law firm use to solicit clients, “would not be prohibited” by the criminal solicitation statute, MCL 750.410.

This is not about one law firm competing against others.

This is about protecting the public as Michigan becomes an increasingly ugly environment, with hired proxies and front companies aggressively calling and even knocking on the doors of people who were just injured in automobile accidents.

We need this legislation now more than ever.

Posted in: BLOG, Michigan Car Accidents, Michigan Lawyers and tagged , .

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