Illegal Ambulance Chasing and How Lawyers Can Properly Solicit Your Business
We recently discussed so-called “ambulance chasers” who hire professional “runners” to collect business from accident victims. As we explained in our previous post, any lawyer who relies on these sorts of tactics to get your business should be immediately suspect. Their conduct is morally reprehensible and, moreover, violates the codes of professional conduct to which attorneys are required to adhere. When attorneys become licensed, they agree to certain ethics rules and codes of conduct. Among many areas of practice, those rules govern when and how attorneys may solicit business from prospective clients. Continue reading to learn about California’s attorney ethics rules and the proper forms of attorney solicitation. If you have been in an accident, do your research, and reach out to a seasoned, qualified Southern California traffic accident lawyer who is on your side.
Lawyers Must Follow Certain Rules to Advertise
All licensed attorneys are subject to a variety of ethical rules and obligations. Failure to adhere to these rules can result in professional sanctions and even disbarment. In California, there are very strict rules that govern how an attorney can advertise their services to prospective clients. Of note, attorneys are prohibited from verbally or through real-time electronic contact soliciting business from prospective clients with whom the attorney or law firm does not already have a prior familial or professional relationship. Attorneys are also prohibited from harassing prospective clients, even in writing, and from communicating with someone after they’ve asked the attorney to stop.
Attorneys can advertise via billboards, banners, websites, and other media, although even those advertisements are subject to limitations. Attorneys cannot make any false or misleading statements in their advertisements, for example, and they cannot guarantee specific case outcomes. If a lawyer or runner shows up at your hospital bed to advertise a law firm, they are already in violation of their ethical duties.
Ambulance Chasing is Not Only Unethical–It’s Illegal
While all attorneys are subject to the ethics rules that guide our profession, there is even more reason not to engage in the conduct perpetrated by these ambulance chasers: It’s illegal. California enacted an anti-ambulance chasing law specifically to curb this exact practice. Attorneys who use runners or cappers to solicit business in hospitals, streets, jails, or other public areas are guilty of a crime, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $15,000. Multiple convictions can lead to even longer sentences.
“Clients” of Illegal Ambulance Chasers Can Recover Their Fees
The fact that the conduct of ambulance chasers is actually illegal has a further, important effect: The contracts that are procured by a runner or lawyer in violation of the prohibition are invalid. They were obtained by way of committing a crime. “Clients” who sign on to these contracts are considered victims of that crime.
According to California Business and Professions Code section 6154, “Any contract for professional services secured by any attorney at law or law firm in this state through the services of a runner or capper is void.” Clients who paid fees or other compensation to the lawyers pursuant to the terms of such agreements can sue to have that compensation repaid, and they can seek to recover additional civil penalties. Those attorneys are also subject to fines and other penalties in actions brought by county or state prosecutors.
If you have been swindled by one of these unscrupulous lawyers, you have the right to get your money back. A proper, ethical attorney can help you recover what you lost.
If you or someone you care about has been injured or killed in a car accident in Southern California, talk to an experienced and professional Lancaster traffic accident attorney about pursuing a claim for damages. Call the Kistler Law Firm at 661-206-6990.