Bar Rules

RULE 7.3 DIRECT CONTACT WITH PROSPECTIVE CLIENTS

Ethics & Discipline / Current Rules / Part IV (After January 1 / 2001) - Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (also includes Disciplinary Proceedings and Advisory Opinion rules) / CHAPTER 1 GEORGIA RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT AND ENFORCEMENT THEREOF

  1. A lawyer shall not send, or knowingly permit to be sent, on behalf of the lawyer, the lawyer's firm, lawyer's partner, associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer's firm, a written communication to a prospective client for the purpose of obtaining professional employment if:
    1. it has been made known to the lawyer that a person does not desire to receive communications from the lawyer;
    2. the communication involves coercion, duress, fraud, overreaching, harassment, intimidation or undue influence;
    3. the written communication concerns an action for personal injury or wrongful death or otherwise relates to an accident or disaster involving the person to whom the communication is addressed or a relative of that person, unless the accident or disaster occurred more than 30 days prior to the mailing of the communication; or
    4. the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the physical, emotional or mental state of the person is such that the person could not exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer.
  2. Written communications to a prospective client, other than a close friend, relative, former client or one whom the lawyer reasonably believes is a former client, for the purpose of obtaining professional employment shall be plainly marked "Advertisement" on the face of the envelope and on the top of each page of the written communication in type size no smaller than the largest type size used in the body of the letter.
  3. A lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value to a person or organization to recommend or secure the lawyer's employment by a client, or as a reward for having made a recommendation resulting in the lawyer's employment by a client; except that the lawyer may pay for public communications permitted by Rule 7.1 and except as follows:
    1. A lawyer may pay the usual and reasonable fees or dues charged by a bona fide lawyer referral service operated by an organization authorized by law and qualified to do business in this state; provided, however, such organization has filed with the State Disciplinary Board, at least annually, a report showing its terms, its subscription charges, agreements with counsel, the number of lawyers participating, and the names and addresses of lawyers participating in the service;
    2. A lawyer may pay the usual and reasonable fees or dues charged by a bar-operated non-profit lawyer referral service, including a fee which is calculated as a percentage of the legal fees earned by the lawyer to whom the service has referred a matter, provided such bar-operated non-profit lawyer referral service meets the following criteria:
      1. the lawyer referral service shall be operated in the public interest for the purpose of referring prospective clients to lawyers, pro bono and public service legal programs, and government, consumer or other agencies who can provide the assistance the clients need. Such organization shall file annually with the State Disciplinary Board a report showing its rules and regulations, its subscription charges, agreements with counsel, the number of lawyers participating and the names and addresses of the lawyers participating in the service;
      2. the sponsoring bar association for the lawyer referral service must be open to all lawyers licensed and eligible to practice in this state who maintain an office within the geographical area served, and who meet reasonable objectively determinable experience requirements established by the bar association;
      3. The combined fees charged by a lawyer and the lawyer referral service to a client referred by such service shall not exceed the total charges which the client would have paid had no service been involved; and,
      4. A lawyer who is a member of the qualified lawyer referral service must maintain in force a policy of errors and omissions insurance in an amount no less than $100,000 per occurrence and $300,000 in the aggregate.
    3. A lawyer may pay the usual and reasonable fees to a qualified legal services plan or insurer providing legal services insurance as authorized by law to promote the use of the lawyer's services, the lawyer's partner or associates services so long as the communications of the organization are not false, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading;
    4. A lawyer may pay the usual and reasonable fees charged by a lay public relations or marketing organization provided the activities of such organization on behalf of the lawyer are otherwise in accordance with these Rules.
    5. A lawyer may pay for a law practice in accordance with Rule 1.17: Sale of Law Practice.
  4. A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment as a private practitioner for the lawyer, a partner or associate through direct personal contact or through live telephone contact, with a non-lawyer who has not sought advice regarding employment of a lawyer.
  5. A lawyer shall not accept employment when the lawyer knows or it is obvious that the person who seeks to employ the lawyer does so as a result of conduct by any person or organization prohibited under Rules 7.3(c)(1), 7.3(c)(2) or 7.3(d): Direct Contact with Prospective Clients.

The maximum penalty for a violation of this Rule is disbarment.

Comment

Direct Personal Contact

[1] There is a potential for abuse inherent in solicitation through direct personal contact by a lawyer of prospective clients known to need legal services. It subjects the lay person to the private importuning of a trained advocate, in a direct interpersonal encounter. A prospective client often feels overwhelmed by the situation giving rise to the need for legal services, and may have an impaired capacity for reason, judgment and protective self-interest. Furthermore, the lawyer seeking the retainer is faced with a conflict stemming from the lawyer's own interest, which may color the advice and representation offered the vulnerable prospect.

[2] The situation is therefore fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and overreaching. The potential for abuse inherent in solicitation of prospective clients through personal contact justifies its prohibition, particularly since the direct written contact permitted under paragraph (b) of this Rule offers an alternative means of communicating necessary information to those who may be in need of legal services. Also included in the prohibited types of personal contact are direct personal contact through an intermediary and live contact by telephone.

Direct Mail Solicitation

[3] Subject to the requirements of Rule 7.1: Communications Concerning a Lawyer's Services and paragraphs (b) and (c) of this Rule 7.3: Direct Contact with Prospective Clients, promotional communication by a lawyer through direct written contact is generally permissible. The public's need to receive information concerning their legal rights and the availability of legal services has been consistently recognized as a basis for permitting direct written communication since this type of communication may often be the best and most effective means of informing. So long as this stream of information flows cleanly, it will be permitted to flow freely.

[4] Certain narrowly-drawn restrictions on this type of communication are justified by a substantial state interest in facilitating the public's intelligent selection of counsel, including the restrictions of sub-paragraph (a)(3) & (4) which proscribe direct mailings to persons such as an injured and hospitalized accident victim or the bereaved family of a deceased.

[5] In order to make it clear that the communication is commercial in nature, paragraph (b) requires inclusion of an appropriate affirmative "advertisement" disclaimer. Again, the traditional exception for contact with close friends, relatives and former clients is recognized and permits elimination of the disclaimer in direct written contact with these persons.

[6] This Rule does not prohibit communications authorized by law, such as notice to members of a class in class action litigation.

Paying Others to Recommend a Lawyer

[7] A lawyer is allowed to pay for communications permitted by these Rules, but otherwise is not permitted to pay another person for channeling professional work. This restriction does not prevent an organization or person other than the lawyer from advertising or recommending the lawyer's services. Thus, a legal aid agency, a prepaid legal services plan or prepaid legal insurance organization may pay to advertise legal services provided under its auspices. Likewise, a lawyer may participate in lawyer referral programs and pay the usual fees charged by such programs, provided the programs are in compliance with the registration requirements of sub-paragraph (c)(1) or (c)(2)of this Rule 7.3: Direct Contact with Prospective Clients and the communications and practices of the organization are not deceptive or misleading.

[8] A lawyer may not indirectly engage in promotional activities through a lay public relations or marketing firm if such activities would be prohibited by these Rules if engaged in directly by the lawyer.



GO TO RULE 7.2 ADVERTISING
GO TO RULE 7.4 COMMUNICATION OF FIELDS OF PRACTICE
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