Ambulance Chasing Lawyers or Providing Equal Access?

The News-Democrat (St. Louis and Southwestern Illinois) has a story about accident lawyers trying to get access to car and truck accident police reports in an effort to obtain clients. They look through these police reports, get the names and addresses of people who have been injured and might have a lawsuit, and then write them a letter soliciting their case.

“Insurance companies can immediately contact people after an accident, and people should have the option to know what their rights are, if they want to talk to a lawyer,” said Michael Hupy, a Milwaukee accident lawyer who uses this technique to attract new clients. “Many people still think you have to pay a fee to talk to a personal injury lawyer.”

Is this ambulance chasing or, as Mr. Hupy suggests, simply a means of giving personal injury lawyers access equal to that of the insurance companies to accident victims?

While I agree with everything Mr. Hupy’s says, I’m still going to go with ambulance chasing. When attorneys send these cold call letters, it forever alters the perception of us and our clients in the eyes of its recipients. This bad perception of accident lawyers as ambulance chasers is also the fuel for tort reform.

I wrote at one point, “I’m not necessarily saying it should be illegal.” But upon further reflection I do think there should be an ethical rule against soliciting victims by direct mail because you found their name in an accident report. In fact, I could argue that the rule to not advertise in a manner which would degrade his or her dignity as a lawyer already applies these letters.

When I first started practicing law, I thought some of the attorney ethical rules were mumbo jumbo because they are a little self aggrandizing. I have never thought we were superior to plumbers, car mechanics or Indian chiefs. Still don’t.

So why should lawyers have different rules than anyone else? The answer is because the public perception of lawyers is always on a tight rope. We are selling injury victims down the river when they do not adhere to the highest ethical standards.

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  • Ron Miller

    Below is my back and forth with Mike Hupy who as quoted in this blog post. Again, as I tell Mike below, the post does not speak to the quality of his firm but is a mere comment on the practice of using police reports in an effect to obtain injured clients.

    Ron,
    Thanks for your very prompt response and I really like your website. I should have sent my email to the response address instead of the contact us address. Please post my response to give accident victims additional insight into selecting or “deselecting” a law firm. M. Hupy
    ——————————————————————————–
    From: RonVMiller@aol.com [mailto:RonVMiller@aol.com]
    Sent: Monday, September 29, 2008 3:11 PM
    To: Michael F. Hupy
    Subject: Your Email
    Thanks for your email. I’m assuming you are responding to my blog post. Look, like I said, I agree with everything you have said in this email and the quote that you gave. I don’t have a problem with any of that. I’m talking to the direct mail practice of solicitation of accident victims: I don’t think it is a good idea for injury lawyers to do it. That comment does not suggest that you do not have a fine law firm. I’m merely commenting on the practice.

    As an aside, I’m not really against lawyers advertising that really don’t handle the work because generally they send the cases to good lawyers. The big dollar marketers here dole out the work to firms like ours that can handle it. It is not a bad system although I can see why it offends some.

    Did you want me to post this comment in response to the blog post or were you just writing me to give me your thoughts?

    Date: 9/29/2008
    The following person filled out and has sent you information from a short contact form on :

    From Page: WebSite
    Name: Michael F. Hupy
    Email: mhupy@mfhupy.com
    Phone: 800-800-5678
    Interested In: Please see my website http://www.hupy.com. We are a top rated law firm and we have a section called “Beware of Lawyer Advertising” where we tell visitors to “throw away mail from lawyers” as does our direct mail advertising material. We also tell accident victims not to hire a lawyer based on advertising alone. The reason we do this is that advertising-direct mail, tv or yellow pages allows lawyers with little experience and who are not top rated like we are to mislead the public about their experience and ability. For example, one law firm said it was the “premier” law firm in WI representing injured bikers when in reality our law firm has successfully represented well over 1000 injured bikers.Other lawyers have almost no trial experience. I need to send material that sets the record straight and gives the public useful information on hiring a lawyer and dealing with an accident. Also see my link to Ben Glass’ website where he promotes his book “The Shocking Truth About Lawyer Advertising” M. Hupy

  • Arletha Cervenka

    This is really interesting!

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