One of the most well-known acts of unethical conduct is solicitation. Solicitation of an individual that is known to have their own attorneys is a serious mistake. Can you protect your clients from this unethical conduct? What should you do about it?
Figure Out What Your Client Knows and Understands about Solicitation
A client who doesn’t know much about hiring a lawyer may have no idea that solicitation is unethical conduct. It might not take much for another lawyer to talk them into changing attorneys regardless of how their case is affected. When this happens, the client puts their own legal interests at risk.
If your client is experienced when it comes to hiring lawyers, especially if they hire lawyers on a regular basis for business purposes, they’re less likely to fall victim to the unethical conduct of the offending lawyer. Their interests are easier to protect since they generally stay with the lawyer or firm they have past good experiences with. Even if they don’t understand what solicitation is, they are still less likely to endanger their own interests.
If you’re a lawyer who represents other lawyers for any reason, they know they’re being exposed to unethical conduct. They’re probably going to be just as upset as you are by the solicitation.
Consider What Actually Occurred and Whether It Really Is Unethical Conduct
There’s a big difference between a client who received a traffic ticket and received a mailer from a lawyer who looks at the traffic docket and outright solicitation. Something like a flyer or letter is less likely to cause a problem between you and your client. Is going through certain types of public court information unethical conduct when it comes to attorney advertising? That’s something you might want to research in the ethics rules for your jurisdiction.
What about when a lawyer solicits your client with a specific idea? What if that specific idea is that you’re not doing your job? This is where it is important for you to know your client’s level of knowledge because you may need to take action.
What Are Your Options?
One option is to call the lawyer who solicited your client to inform them that your client has a lawyer. Of course, that might not fix any damage that’s been done. A client may, after all, change attorneys when they’d like. You must have a plan to save your relationship with your client. This includes:
- Explaining to your client that the other lawyer engaged in unethical conduct. Be careful in how you say it. You don’t want to slander anyone. That could create a brand new problem.
- Explaining how switching lawyers may affect their case and their fees. Don’t make the client feel as if you’re pressuring them to continue with your professional relationship. This is about objectively presenting the costs; those costs include the time it would take for the other lawyer to catch up on what’s happened in their case. The other lawyer certainly isn’t going to do that for free.
- Ask your client if they feel there is something you should do to improve your practice. Asking clients for feedback is one of the best things you can do to ensure that you are adequately meeting their needs.
You also have the option of reporting the unethical conduct. In some states, it isn’t an option. It’s mandatory. In some states, there’s no real guidance on the issue. Find out how your jurisdiction looks at the matter and determine if you want to or if you must report the behavior.
If you receive an ethics complaint from the California Bar and you’re not sure where you should start, check out The State Bar Playbook. This is Megan’s interactive and easy to use guide (and community!) that will help guide you through the process from receipt of the complaint all the way through the appeals process!