Updated Aug. 26, 2023
The joke about personal injury lawyers being “ambulance chasers” is a well-known trope. But the practice of attorneys chasing after accident victims and soliciting them as clients is a common practice.
It’s known as barratry.
And it’s illegal.
Lawyers who you don’t know are not allowed to contact you and offer to represent you. They also can’t use other people to solicit you on their behalf. If a lawyer engages in barratry, they can lose their license. If you hired an attorney who solicited you, you may be able to void your contract with them and collect a penalty from them.
What is Barratry (ambulance chasing)?
Texas has strict laws about how attorneys may market their services. Attorney advertising that takes places on billboards, television, the internet, and other mediums and complies with rules about these types of ads is permissible under Texas law. When a potential client approaches a law firm after seeing their advertisement, this is perfectly A-OK.
Barratry occurs when an attorney, or their paid representative, initiates contact with a potential client.
The prohibited communication may occur in-person, over the phone, or through social media. Specifically, it is not allowed when it involves “communication in a live or electronically interactive manner.”
For example, an attorney is sitting at home reading the newspaper when he sees an article about a major truck accident. He then calls or visits the victim or their family about filing a lawsuit. The attorney has now committed barratry.
But there are exceptions to this general rule.
An attorney may approach a current or former client, other lawyers, and close family, personal, or business contacts about legal services. Communications sent through regular mail or e-mail are generally not prohibited. Word of mouth recommendations also do not constitute barratry.
However, attorneys sometimes pay people known as “case runners” to refer cases to them. The law treats this the same as an attorney making a personal solicitation.
These “runners” try to refer injury lawyers to vulnerable accident victims. They may be health care workers, first responders, funeral directors, clergy members, counselors, victim advocates, or towing service employees. Sometimes, they may even be posing as one of these professionals.
In addition to cold approaching prospective clients, attorneys may commit barratry by encouraging clients to file lawsuits for which there is no legal basis, for the sole purpose of generating fees. Barratry can also include attorneys paying, or offering to pay, prospective clients or their family members for their business.
What Clients Can Do If They Were Solicited
Knowing how to deal with ambulance chasers is important.
The Texas Penal Code and the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct contain provisions dealing with barratry.
Before digging into possible remedies for solicited clients, it’s worth discussing why solicitation is frowned upon. The Texas Center for Legal Ethics explains it this way:
“The person, who may already feel overwhelmed by the circumstances giving rise to the need for legal services, may find it difficult to fully evaluate all available alternatives with reasoned judgment and appropriate self‑interest in the face of the lawyer’s presence and insistence upon an immediate response. The situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and overreaching.”
A person in need of legal services is already in a vulnerable state. Many attorneys are skilled in the art of persuasion. It’s possible for them to have good intentions of helping a potential client, and still overreach in their sales pitch. But the bigger risk is from an attorney looking to make a quick buck and using false and misleading statements meant to overwhelm a potential client’s judgment.
Anti-barratry laws are meant to ensure that those in need of legal services are not coerced—intentionally or unintentionally—into making uninformed decisions about their choice of attorney.
Clients who’ve been solicited have a few different legal options, depending on their case status.
- If the case has concluded, the client may be able to sue the lawyer and get their legal fees back.
- If the case is ongoing, it may be possible to terminate the attorney-client contract, with no legal fees owed.
- If the solicitation did not result in the client hiring the lawyer, the client may still be able to collect $10,000 from the lawyer.
- The client may file an attorney grievance, which could result in sanctions, including suspension from practicing law or disbarment.
- Attorneys can be convicted of a misdemeanor offense the first time they engage in barratry and a third-degree felony for subsequent convictions.
Solicitation Could Signal a Bigger Problem
You may have been approached illegally by an attorney and want to hold them accountable. Maybe you’re hesitant to do so, especially in the middle of an active case. You might even like your lawyer and want to keep them, even if you found out they committed barratry.
But can you really trust an attorney that broke the law to get you as a client?
How can you be sure they aren’t engaged in other improprieties that threaten your case?
Reputable law firms do not engage in solicitation. They rely on a good reputation, results, and recommendations from satisfied clients. With thousands of lawsuits filed, more than a billion dollars recovered for our clients, and over 50+ years of experience, our numbers speak for themselves.
Ready to talk? Call 1-800-505-1414 or send us a message for a free case review.