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What is ‘attorney solicitation’?

March 23, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan’s ‘ambulance chasing’ law defines illegal ‘attorney solicitation’ of a car crash victim as a ‘verbal or written’ offer within 30 days of a car accident to ‘provide a service for a fee or other remuneration’

Attorney solicitation
Illegal ‘attorney solicitation’ is addressed by Michigan’s laws protecting car crash and personal injury victims from ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyers and by the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve been one of the attorneys leading the charge to hold “ambulance chasing” lawyers accountable for violating the laws prohibiting “attorney solicitation” of car crash victims.

Indeed, when the governor signed into law the legislation protecting car accident victims from intrusive, aggressive and overreaching mail solicitations from “ambulance chasing” attorneys, I applauded:

“Congratulations to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for cleaning up Michigan personal injury law and protecting auto accident victims from ruthless and overly aggressive mail solicitations by ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyers in Michigan. … Sadly, this unscrupulous practice (and scourge on the reputation of the legal profession) has gone on for too long. [Solicitation] lawyers have ‘gamed’ an ethics loophole which allows lawyers to use the mail to solicit legal business from auto accident victims, even though direct, face-to-face (or by telephone) solicitation is prohibited. The ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyers would buy and download the auto accident reports (prepared by the police) from the Internet. Then, within days or even hours of the crash being reported, the ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyers would flood the mailboxes and doorsteps of auto accident victims with the lawyers’ glossy promotional materials in the hopes of soliciting the victims’ accident-related legal business. Happily, this is a great start to bringing an end to those dark days.”

Frequently, when I’m talking about the harms that “ambulance chasing” lawyers do to auto accident victims, people will ask:

What is “illegal attorney solicitation”?

Generally, I tell people, illegal attorney solicitation is when a lawyer (or non-lawyer working for the lawyer) pressures a Michigan car crash victim into hiring the lawyer at time when the victim is most vulnerable – in the hours and days after an accident.

Specifically, I say, it depends on whether we’re talking about the anti-solicitation rules for auto accident victims, personal injury victims or for all types of clients.

No ‘attorney solicitation’ of car crash victims

Under Michigan’s “ambulance chasing” law (which took effect on January 1, 2014) that outlawed attorney solicitation of car accident victims, illegal attorney solicitation or unlawful “direct solicitation” is defined as:

“[A] verbal or written solicitation or offer, including by electronic means, made to the injured individual or a family member [business during the first “30 days after the date of [the victims’] motor vehicle accident”] seeking to provide a service for a fee or other remuneration that is based upon the knowledge or belief that the individual has sustained a personal injury as a direct result of a motor vehicle accident and that is directed toward that individual or a family member.” (MCL 750.410b(1) and (2)(a))

‘Attorney solicitation’ of personal injury victims prohibited

Under Michigan’s law prohibiting “solicitation of personal injury claims,” an attorney and/or a non-lawyer working on his behalf is prohibited from:

“[D]irectly or indirectly, individually or by agent … solicit[ing] a person injured as the result of an accident, his or her administrator, executor, heirs, or assigns, his or her guardian, or members of the family of the injured person, for the purpose of representing that person in making a claim for damages or prosecuting an action or causes of action arising out of a personal injury claim against any other person, firm, or corporation …” (MCL 750.410(1))

What do the lawyer ethics rules say about ‘attorney solicitation’?

Subject to limited exceptions, Rule 7.3(a) of the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct imposes the following restrictions on “attorney solicitation”:

  • “A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment from a prospective client with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain.”
  • “The term ‘solicit’ includes contact in person, by telephone or telegraph, by letter or other writing, or by other communication directed to a specific recipient …”

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