Every attorney needs clients in order to succeed in his or her profession, but exactly how you go about getting those clients can be problematic. You don’t want to run afoul of the rules that govern how you can ethically approach potential clients.
A lot of injury attorneys solicit clients by finding accident victims through police reports. Can criminal attorneys do the same by looking through arrest records to find the names and contact information of recent arrestees?
In California, at least, it’s an acceptable practice — even though not everyone may agree about whether not it’s appropriate for attorneys to send what is sometimes called “jail mail” to potential clients. It’s important, however, for attorneys who contact potential criminal defendants to remember that their communications are bound by the California Rule of Professional Conduct 1-400.
Anything designed to solicit clients needs to be clearly labeled as an advertisement. In addition, it’s important to that all your communications to potential clients be:
- Truthful, offering no more than an accurate representation of the potential penalties and fines someone might face.
- Not designed into intimidating the recipient into contacting you out of fear over the consequences of the arrest.
- Devoid of promises that you’ll obtain a specific outcome for any client.
There are a few other points that attorneys need to keep in mind when soliciting business from people who have been recently arrested.
First, you can’t solicit business from anyone whose physical or mental condition could be affecting their judgment. For example, soliciting business from someone who is still potentially feeling the effects of alcohol after their drunk driving arrest is forbidden. Second, while not specifically required, the State Bar has stated that disclosing how you obtained the potential client’s information would be in “keeping with the spirit of Rule 1-400.”
Charges that you’ve violated the rules designed to govern the professional conduct of attorneys in California are serious. An ethical violation can put your license to practice in danger, so make certain that your advertising efforts never lead you astray.