As a smaller law firm in Northwest Florida, we pride ourselves on the one-on-one attention we give each one of our cases. We don’t hand our clients off to case managers, paralegals, or legal assistants. Yes, we have paralegals and legal assistants, but the attorneys are your primary contact in our office. The practice of giving personal attention to clients has generated hundreds, if not thousands, of referrals from our past clients. We were happy to see that The Florida Bar recently tightened up the rules governing the practice of law by taking issue with the Florida law firms that try to sign up a prospective client by using unethical and improper actions and communication. The Bar’s Special Committee to Study the Unethical and Illegal Solicitation of Legal Business has seen an uptick in the improper solicitation of personal injury victims by lawyers and non-lawyers.
Board of Governors member Jay Cohen who chairs the special committee told The Florida Bar News, “Some of the direct solicitations that we’ve heard about have been instances of individuals, commonly referred to as runners and/or investigators, showing up at hospitals or alternatively at potential clients’ homes and businesses, and they inquire about the incident or accident that occurred. In some cases, the runner or investigators work directly for a lawyer or law firm. But in some cases, “these runners or alleged investigators are independent and they then try to market those potential clients to several lawyers and that might be to the highest bidder,” he said.
The improper solicitations are not much of a secret. Some lawyers appear to accept this practice or to be indifferent about combating the practice. “What we’ve found is one of the fundamental problems is not uncovering what’s going on, but the willingness of lawyers or clients to step up to the plate and be complainants in a grievance or report these individuals to the prosecuting authorities,” Cohen said. “. . . A lot of lawyers are not coming forward with the information they have in order to prosecute these claims.” He added, “We have a feeling that what we face with the concerns that this conduct will become overwhelming, even more so than it is.”
The committee is beginning to look at solutions for the problems it has identified, Cohen said. “Right now, we’re going to focus on coming up with recommendation on rules and rule modifications, enforcement, and education,” Cohen said. “We think it requires an education process, looking at our grievance committees and their roles, looking at the rules, and seeing if there’s a more effective way to police this conduct. Lastly, we’re looking at enforcement, what we can control by our staff attorneys and disciplinary procedures.”
The committee, set up by immediate past President Greg Coleman, hopes to have its recommendations ready for the Board of Governors around June, Cohen said.
Anyone wishing to provide information or suggestions to the committee can send them to Bar Counsel Thomas Kroeger at [email protected].
For more information on the Rules Regulating Florida Attorneys regarding direct contact with prospective clients, visit https://www.floridabar.org/.