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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