I recently read a few articles about lawyers in Wisconsin and Texas targeting car accident victims by scouring local police reports. They then contact the accident victims by mail. In the articles, the lawyers give their reason for doing this as trying to put accident victims on equal footing with insurance companies, who also approach accident victims immediately after an accident. Fair enough. Sort of like public service. But I guarantee the lawyers using this method to attract clients are not offering free legal services. Are the Wisconsin and Texas lawyers justified in their attempts to seek new clients in this way? Is it just another method of marketing their practice, or does it go too far?
The same thing happens in Philadelphia, although it has not been written about. Local lawyers hire “investigators” to sit in a room in City Hall where all the police reports are kept. The “investigators” scour the police reports for serious accidents where the accident victims are not at fault, for instance rear- end collisions, and once that information is obtained by the lawyers, they write to the car accident victims offering representation. A few clients of mine have told me, after they have hired me, that they have received a “strange’ letter from another lawyer, like what I’ve just described. I then explain this method that some lawyers use to try to find clients.
Is this illegal? No. Is it unethical in terms of the standards lawyers must adhere to? Not technically. Lawyers have the right under the 1st Amendment to contact prospective clients in writing, not in person or by telephone, and offer their services. Does it undermine the legal profession and personal injury lawyers in particular? It certainly does.