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Are Ethics Rules or E-Shaming Deterring Distasteful Lawyer Ads?

New York personal injury attorney Eric Turkewitz has concluded that ethics rules have been effective in "putting the brakes" on shameless online solicitation ads, which crop up as quickly as weeds in the wake of a mass disaster. While Turkewitz's conclusions aren't based on scientific evidence, he does offer a quick and dirty analysis based on three recent disasters:

First: On October 15, 2003 the Staten Island Ferry crashed killing 11 people and injuring 71. In the following days the Staten Island Advance was flooded with lawyer ads. This was the impetus for New York's 30-day anti-solicitation rule, which went into effect at the beginning of 2007. (I tried to get back issues to actually count the ads, but they were not available.)

Second: On September 28, 2008, a Metrolink train crashed in Chatsworth, Calif., near Los Angeles, that killed 25 and injured over 100 more. Kevin O'Keefe counted at least 25 sponsored ads by attorneys when he ran a Google search for "Los Angeles Train Accident Attorney." California does not have an attorney anti-solicitation rule.

Third: The crash near Buffalo had only seven ads, and most ... were from out of state.

While this isn't the most scientific of experiments, the sharp contrast leaves little doubt that ethics rules are effective in putting a sharp brake on attorney solicitation (or at least this public type of solicitation). Bearing in mind that there are about a million lawyers in the nation and about 75,000 in New York, the restraint shown has been extraordinary. Only a very few people attempted it, and they quickly withdrew.

I think Turkewitz is being too modest. As I view the evidence (albeit scant), it seems that Turkewitz's repeated coverage of lawyer solicitation of clients in recent airline cases (including here, here and here) may have e-shamed firms in removing the ads to avoid negative publicity. And in fact, after one of Turkewitz's posts, he was contacted by one of the lawyers whom he'd called out about the firm's ad looking for clients in the Buffalo disaster. The lawyer informed Turkewitz that he wasn't aware of the ad but that he would pull it -- and he did.

So was it ethics rules that lead to the removal of the ad, or Turkewitz's e-shaming? It may be a combination of the two. Even with anti-solicitation rules, most bars lack the resources to fully enforce them, so they rely on a combination of voluntary compliance and reporting by other lawyers. With watchdogs like Turkewitz on guard, it's more likely that violations of an ethics rule will reach the bar and put lawyers who engage in solicitation at risk of a grievance.

What's your view?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 26, 2009 at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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