While I may be a bit on the extreme side in opposition to sleazy lawyer marketing, no one can argue that the proprietor of LexBlog, Kevin O’Keefe, supports the notion that lawyers should be “Thought Leaders” and get their ideas out there to market themselves. So when Kevin hits the wall on sleaze, you know it’s bad. And it’s bad.
In the race to who can be the sleaziest lawyers in the country, Ohio personal injury lawyers are now soliciting injury victims via text messages. The lawyers are getting cell phone numbers from police reports.
As reported by Mark Williams of the Columbus Dispatch, the Ohio Supreme Court approved text advertising in an advisory opinion earlier this year.
What are they doing? They’re sending texts to the victims and families of tragedies, “offering” to chat with them, tell them their rights, and, ahem, help them to get the most possible MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!!!
In the nasty old days, we had a phrase that captured such conduct. It was called “ambulance chasing,” and it was frowned upon. But then, that’s a concern for dinosaurs, those old-time lawyers who didn’t appreciate that technology has changed everything. The Future of Law has a different way of expressing it.
The court believes text solicitations reflect changing technology. It’s just “another way for lawyers to communicate with prospective clients,” per a court spokesperson.
See how much better that sounds? It’s benign, even helpful. As explained in the Columbus Dispatch,
Its Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline issued an advisory opinion in May that said lawyers are permitted to use text messages to solicit business, assuming they comply with other rules that regulate attorney advertising. Lawyers sending the messages are required to pick up all the costs of the texting.
“The opinion tries to set out the parameters so that everyone plays by the same rules,” said Rick Dove, the board’s secretary.
By “everyone,” it appears that they are saying that if all lawyers are allowed to be equally sleazy, then no lawyer is left behind. Not included in the “everyone,” however, are the people who will receive these advertising texts. They don’t count. But not to worry, the Board of Commissioners has them covered, as the lawyers have to pick up the costs of texting. How, as Kevin asks, they will send the victims their 17 cents has yet to be explained.
Yet, the court says this is good. Lawyers aren’t trying to push their way into the lives of people who have just suffered tragedy. They’re just communicating. What’s wrong with communicating? Isn’t communicating a wonderful thing?
Imagine a father visiting his daughter in the hospital the day after a serious accident and getting text messages from a lawyer with links to a website with pictures of cars rolled over in a ditch, trucks hitting cars, victims being loaded into ambulances, and x-rays.
But, but, but, the Ohio Supreme Court says it’s okay. They say it’s just the way technology has changed the world, and lawyers should hop on board before they miss the train. If the court says it’s fine, who are we to question?
This raises an issue that may be more troubling than sleazy lawyers who would engage in such offensive conduct. So the court says it’s cool. Does that suggest that the Ohio Supreme Court has no clue what it’s approving, that it has bought into the dulcet tones of marketing lawyers who just want to help people? Or does it suggest that the need for lawyers to make money trumps all considerations of decency and dignity?
Part of this may be a language problem, where conduct that had been historically understood to be shameful is now couched in language that makes it appear helpful, even benevolent. After all, no one wants the victim of tragedy to be deceived or ignore their rights. There are lawyers out there ready, willing and able to help them. They just want to help, to protect the vulnerable victims at a terrible moment in their lives. What’s wrong with that?
Much of the “discussion” these days is just a variation on marketing-speak, how to make disgraceful conduct sound like anything other than what it is. Recharacterize sleaze and it comes off sounding as if lawyers chasing ambulances are great humanitarians.
But at some point isn’t there a limit to what is tasteful? Isn’t there a threshold our profession ought to maintain? We are lawyers, and our reputation isn’t getting any better.
Follow this advancement of technology argument and we’ll soon have lawyers talking out of drones flying over car accidents.
To say this is less than tasteful is, to my curmudgeon mind, inadequate. There are plenty of lawyer advertisements that won’t win any “tastefulness” contests, not to mention plenty that violate most normal folks’ notion of honesty. No, this goes beyond tasteless. This is patently offensive, and gross, unsolicited, unwanted intrusion into the lives of the victims of tragedy and their families.
But as long as it uses technology, it must be good, because tech is the future of law. Everybody says so, even the Ohio Supreme Court.