A sea change in lawyer advertising in personal injury cases is about to take place. The Supreme Court of Virginia recently published new rules for lawyer advertising. The new rules will eliminate a long held ban on in-person solicitation of personal injury victims.
For years, the advertising rules were different for personal injury lawyers than for attorneys in any other practice. The rules did not allow attorneys to approach potential personal injury clients and solicit them in-person. While the rule at first seemed fair, it singled out plaintiff’s attorneys and allowed for in-person solicitation of others needing attorneys in different practice areas. For example, a potential client needing an attorney for bankruptcy, divorce or a criminal charge could be approached directly by an attorney looking to work with them. Attorneys that handled personal injury cases were singled out by the rule. Some thought that the rule should apply to all cases, while others thought the ban should be lifted for all cases. Regardless of whether the rule is to allow this type of advertising or ban it, it should be applied equally to all types of cases.
The Virginia State Bar’s Standing Committee on Ethics considered extending the in-person ban on solicitation by attorneys to all attorneys. After considering that approach, they decided instead to remove the ban on in-person solicitation by all attorneys. The change was accepted by the Supreme Court of Virginia and is now set to take effect on July 1, 2013.
While I did not like that personal injury attorneys were singled out in the previous rule, I am not particularly in favor of the new rule either. It seems to me that it would have been more appropriate to put an in-person solicitation ban on all attorneys. As it stands, come July 1, we will likely see aggressive tactics by some attorneys to solicit people after they have been seriously injured in an accident. This could conceivably mean that some attorneys or their representatives might show up at hospitals and try to meet with people after they have been admitted from injuries in a car accident.
While the ban is lifted, the new rule does make it improper for an attorney using harassment, undue influence, core version, address, compulsion, intimidation, threats or unwarranted promises of benefits. It will also be improper to continue contact with a potential client if they have rejected the attorney’s contact.
In addition to in person solicitation, we are likely to see some attorneys mail information to potential clients that are victims in car accident cases. The rule will require that any written materials sent are to have in capital letters “ADVERTISING MATERIAL”. The process of mailing letters to potential clients has been seen in the area of traffic attorneys. There are already lawyers that obtain the names and addresses of people that have received traffic violations and mail letters to these individuals requesting that they hire the attorney sending the letter.
Time will tell what the true effect of this new rule will be. My firm will not make in-person solicitations nor will we send out mailings to potential clients. We are fortunate that our former clients and other attorneys continue to refer us new clients. While we are fortunate to have a healthy practice, we always welcome the opportunity to work with a new client and do appreciate those who continue to send their friends and family members to us.