A car accident can be traumatic. It takes time for people to recover. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous lawyers attempt to take advantage of this by soliciting accident victims when they are most vulnerable. These types of attorneys are the proverbial “ambulance chasers” that give the practice of law a bad name. These practices are illegal and unethical. Attorneys practicing in this way are frowned upon by the Georgia legal community and the State Bar of Georgia.
The Use of “Runners”
Often, attorneys attempting to gain clients in this way will have third-parties identify and solicit potential clients for them by checking accident reports and hospital records. These are commonly referred to as “runners.” At their worst, runners will actually visit accident victims in the hospital following a car accident and attempt to talk them into consulting with a particular attorney.
If a stranger ever approaches you or contacts you after an accident to tell you that they know an attorney that can help, they are probably working as a runner. Accident victims should know that this type of behavior by attorneys is completely unethical. This is true regardless of whether an attorney solicits clients personally or uses the services of a runner. If an attorney is caught soliciting clients in this way, the maximum punishment under the Georgia ethics rules is disbarment.
Georgia Laws and Ethics Rules Prohibit Predatory Solicitation Behavior
All Georgia attorneys are bound to follow the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 7.3 deals with the solicitation of prospective clients. In pertinent part, this rule reads:
(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.
(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.
As noted previously, the maximum penalty for violating Rule 7.3 is disbarment. The Georgia legislature has also passed a law intended to crack down on the use of runners which provides for additional punishment. The Official Code of Georgia Title 33 Section 24 Chapter 53 defines a runner as a person “who receives a pecuniary benefit” from an attorney in return for soliciting clients.
Never Risk Hiring a Lawyer You Don’t Know That Contacts You After an Accident
If you have been injured in an accident, you never want to risk hiring an attorney that is behaving unethically like this, because chances are any attorney desperate enough to risk disbarment to get new clients is not a very good attorney. If you have been solicited in an inappropriate way following an accident, you can file a complaint with the Georgia Bar Association. If you would like more information about this issue, contact Joel Williams Law, LLC, today.