For some personal injury lawyers, a quality practice is all about the quantity of cases coming through their doors as opposed to the quality of those cases. In the mix, there might be some fairly valuable cases, but the objective of such personal injury law firms is to get new clients signed to a retainer agreement and get them out as soon as possible with a settlement check in hand. It’s a perfectly legal business model too, unless lawyers become what are known as ambulance chasers, or they employ runners, cappers or other individuals who provide cases or valuable information about accident victims in return for cash. Those victims are often Hispanic, apprehensive about bringing attention to themselves and without any understanding of their legal rights if they’re injured in an accident in California. It’s through the exploitation of them or other poor and uneducated population segments that ambulance chasing becomes a crime.
The Lawyer Solicitation Prohibition
It’s been established that just about any type of advertising by a lawyer is perfectly legal, so long as it doesn’t hold the profession in disrepute. Even the gauche billboards in the lawyer district of Wilshire Boulevard pass scrutiny. It isn’t even against the law for one person to recommend a lawyer to somebody else, so long as compensation doesn’t figure into the referral. The California Rules of Professional Responsibility section 1-400 addresses solicitations in connection with the availability for professional employment of a member or a law firm in which a significant motive is financial gain. Subsection (c) of 1-400 expressly prohibits a direct solicitation made by or on behalf of a member or law firm that the lawyer or law firm has no family or prior professional relationship with. That hasn’t deterred some lawyers or law firms though. Whenever possible, chasers, also known as runners or cappers, directly solicit clients for lawyers or law firms for their mutual financial gain. Here’s how it’s done.
When Opportunity Knocks
A lawyer or a chaser will use any number of direct or indirect schemes to get clients to sign on the dotted line. Some chasers listen in on police scanners in the hope that they can get to an accident scene before the next guy. They might show up at an accident victim’s front door. Some particularly aggressive chasers show up at a victim’s hospital bed unsolicited. They might do business at emergency rooms or urgent care centers too. Tow truck drivers are a valuable resource for ambulance chasers, as they’re privy to information that isn’t typically available to others who might be at an accident scene. So are police officers, paramedics, hospital personnel and insurance agents who have all reportedly solicited for lawyers in one form or another. In the “old days,” even insurance adjusters were in on the fix through kickbacks. At least one enterprising Los Angeles personal injury lawyer appeared to have worked toward increasing his personal injury client base on Twitter. He later blamed an overzealous marketer who he had hired for purposes of bringing his law firm an increased number of accident cases.
Legal Fees Derived from Runners are Void
Section 6151(a) of the California Business and Professions Code makes it illegal for any person, firm, association or corporation in any manner or in any capacity from acting as an agent for an attorney or a law firm for the solicitation or procurement of business for the attorney or law firm. Criminal penalties can be imposed for this. An attorney or law firm in California secures legal services through a runner or chaser, any legal fees so derived are void pursuant to section 6154(a) of the Code. Any such fees recovered in this regard are to be divided between various state and county government entities pursuant to section 6154(b).
The legal profession is regulated far more than ordinary citizens might perceive. Many lawyers who are disciplined didn’t even realize that they did something wrong. There probably isn’t a personal injury lawyer in practice anywhere in California who isn’t aware of the prohibitions against cappers, ambulance chasing, runners or direct solicitation though. Retaining an unethical personal lawyer who engages in illegal practices to get clients can cause big headaches for you in the future. Do yourself a favor and retain an experienced and respected professional to represent you in your personal injury claim or lawsuit. You’re likely to end up with a better result too.
Inbound Marketing for Personal Injury Attorneys
We help good lawyers look their best online and appear in search results when accident victims are actively searching for an attorney. If you’re interested in ethical personal injury SEO and content marketing services, please feel free to contact us today. We do not participate in ambulance chasing nor do we work with law firms who do so.