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Lawyer's Ad Tacky, Perhaps, but Unethical?

Is it ethical for a lawyer to solicit a rape victim by leaving a leaflet on her windshield? That is the question to be decided by New Jersey's Committee on Attorney Advertising, according to the New Jersey Law Journal. It seems beyond debate that such a solicitation would be in bad taste, but distasteful is not necessarily synonymous with unethical. In a nutshell, here is what is alleged, according to the NJLJ report:

The victim, known in court papers as K.D., claims an orange flyer from Fred Zemel's Newark firm appeared on her car on or about Feb. 19, 2007 -- two months after the sexual assault occurred. It touted the firm's services to anyone who had been the victim of "rape and assault in your building or apartment." No other car parked nearby had such a flyer on it, leading K.D. to assume the flyer was directed at her, she says.

Based on that allegation, the Committee on Attorney Advertising filed a formal complaint against Zemel, charging him with violating the ethical prohibitions against direct client solicitation and against communicating with someone whose physical, emotional or mental state might impair the decision to hire a lawyer.

Of course, there are two sides to every story and Zemel's side is that he never deliberately targeted K.D. or even knew about her case. He admits that he hired someone to distribute his leaflets but says he gave the person no directions about specific areas in which to do so. His lack of intent to target K.D. is shown by the fact that "similar flyers had been circulated in the same format long prior to the alleged crime," he contends.

After Monday's hearing, it will now be for the advertising committee to sort out whether the lawyer's brochure appeared on the rape victim's windshield deliberately or by happenstance and whether the brochure violated any ethics rules.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 29, 2009 at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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