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End-of-life notice: American Legal Ethics Library

As of March 1, 2013, the Legal Information Institute is no longer maintaining the information in the American Legal Ethics Library. It is no longer possible for us to maintain it at a level of completeness and accuracy given its staffing needs. It is very possible that we will revive it at a future time. At this point, it is in need of a complete technological renovation and reworking of the "correspondent firm" model which successfully sustained it for many years.

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Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct

Comment - 7.3

[1] There is a potential for abuse inherent in direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact by a lawyer with a prospective client known to need legal services. These forms of contact between a lawyer and a prospective client subject the layperson to the private importuning of the trained advocate in a direct interpersonal encounter. The prospective client, who may already feel overwhelmed by the circumstances giving rise to the need for legal services, may find it difficult fully to evaluate all available alternatives with reasoned judgment and appropriate self-interest in the face of the lawyer’s presence and insistence upon being retained immediately. The situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and over-reaching.

[2] This potential for abuse inherent in direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic solicitation of prospective clients justifies its prohibition, particularly since lawyer advertising and written and recorded communication permitted under Rule 7.2 offer alternative means of conveying necessary information to those who may be in need of legal services. Advertising and written and recorded communications that may be mailed or autodialed make it possible for a prospective client to be informed about the need for legal services, and about the qualifications of available lawyers and law firms, without subjecting the prospective client to direct in-person, telephone, or real-time electronic persuasion that may overwhelm the prospective client’s judgment. In using any telephone communication, a lawyer remains subject to applicable requirements of the “Do Not Call” provisions of federal telemarketing sales regulations.

[3] The use of general advertising and written, recorded, or electronic communications to transmit information from lawyer to prospective client, rather than direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact, will help to ensure that the information flows cleanly as well as freely. The contents of advertisements and communications permitted under Rule 7.2 can be permanently recorded so that they cannot be disputed and may be shared with others who know the lawyer. This potential for informal review is itself likely to help guard against statements and claims that might constitute false and misleading communications, in violation of Rule 7.1. The contents of direct in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic conversations between a lawyer and a prospective client can be disputed and may not be subject to third-party scrutiny. Consequently, they are much more likely to approach, and occasionally cross, the dividing line between accurate representations and those that are false and misleading.

[4] There is far less likelihood that a lawyer would engage in abusive practices against an individual who is a former client, or with whom the lawyer has close personal or family relationship, or in situations in which the lawyer is motivated by considerations other than the lawyer’s pecuniary gain. Nor is there a serious potential for abuse when the person contacted is a lawyer. Consequently, the general prohibition in Rule 7.3(a) and the requirements of Rule 7.3(c) are not applicable in those situations. Also, division (a) is not intended to prohibit a lawyer from participating in constitutionally protected activities of public or charitable legal service organizations or bona fide political, social, civic, fraternal, employee, or trade organizations whose purposes include providing or recommending legal services to its members or beneficiaries.

[5] But even permitted forms of solicitation can be abused. Thus, any solicitation that contains information that is false or misleading within the meaning of Rule 7.1, that involves coercion, duress, or harassment within the meaning of Rule 7.3(b)(2), or that involves contact with a prospective client who has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer within the meaning of Rule 7.3(b)(1) is prohibited. Moreover, if after sending a letter or other communication to a prospective client as permitted by Rule 7.2 the lawyer receives no response, any further effort to communicate with the prospective client may violate the provisions of Rule 7.3(b).

[6] This rule is not intended to prohibit a lawyer from contacting representatives of organizations or groups that may be interested in establishing a group or prepaid legal plan for their members, insureds, beneficiaries, or other third parties for the purpose of informing such entities of the availability of and details concerning the plan or arrangement that the lawyer or lawyer’s firm is willing to offer. This form of communication is not directed to a prospective client. Rather, it is usually addressed to an individual acting in a fiduciary capacity seeking a supplier of legal services for others who may, if they choose, become prospective clients of the lawyer. Under these circumstances, the activity that the lawyer undertakes in communicating with such representatives and the type of information transmitted to the individual are functionally similar to and serve the same purpose as advertising permitted under Rule 7.2.

[7] None of the requirements of Rule 7.3 applies to communications sent in response to requests from clients or prospective clients. General announcements by lawyers, including changes in personnel or office location, do not constitute communications soliciting professional employment from a client known to be in need of legal services within the meaning of this rule.

[7A] The use of written, recorded, and electronic communications to solicit prospective clients who have suffered personal injuries or the loss of a loved one can potentially be offensive. Nonetheless, it is recognized that such communications assist potential clients in not only making a meaningful determination about representation, but also can aid potential clients in recognizing issues that may be foreign to them. Accordingly, the information contained in division (e) must be communicated to the prospective client or a relative of a prospective client when the solicitation occurs within thirty days of an accident or disaster that gives rise to a potential claim for personal injury or wrongful death.

[8] Division (f) of this rule permits a lawyer to participate with an organization that uses personal contact to solicit members for its group or prepaid legal service plan, provided that the personal contact is not undertaken by any lawyer who would be a provider of legal services through the plan. The organization must not be owned or directed, whether as manager or otherwise, by any lawyer or law firm that participates in the plan. For example, division (f) would not permit a lawyer to create an organization controlled directly or indirectly by the lawyer and use the organization for the in-person or telephone solicitation of legal employment of the lawyer through memberships in the plan or otherwise. The communication permitted by these organizations also must not be directed to a person known to need legal services in a particular matter, but is to be designed to inform potential plan members generally of another means of affordable legal services. Lawyers who participate in a legal service plan must reasonably ensure that the plan sponsors are in compliance with Rules 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3(b). See Rule 8.4(a).

Comparison to former Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility

Rule 7.3 embraces the provisions of DR 2-104(A), DR 2-101(F) and DR 2-101(H), with modifications.

At division (c), the rule broadens the types of communications that are permitted by authorizing the use of recorded telephone messages and electronic communication via the Internet. Further, in keeping with the new methods of communication that are authorized, the provisions of DR 2-101(F) regarding disclosures are incorporated and modified to apply to all forms of permissible direct solicitations.

The provisions of DR 2-101(F)(2) have been incorporated in division (c) and modified to reduce the micromanagement of lawyer contact, which previously had been the subject of abuse, by requiring that the disclaimers “ADVERTISEMENT ONLY” and “ADVERTISING MATERIAL” be “conspicuously” displayed. The requirements contained in DR 2-101(F)(2)(b) regarding disclaimers of prior acquaintance or contact with the addressee and avoidance of personalization have not been retained.

The provisions of DR 2-101(F)(4) [pre-service solicitation of defendants in civil actions] have been inserted as a new division (d), and the provisions of DR 2-101(H) [solicitation of accident or disaster victims] have been inserted as a new division (e).

Comparison to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct

Rule 7.3 contains the following substantive changes to Model Rule 7.3:

  • With the modifications discussed above, the requirements placed upon the lawyer involved in the direct solicitation of prospective clients are more stringent than the requirements contained in division (c) of the Model Rule. Because a lawyer is not likely to have actual knowledge [Rule 1.0(g)] of a prospective client’s need for legal services, the Model Rule standard contained in division (c) is changed to “* * * soliciting professional employment from a prospective client whom the lawyer reasonably believes to be in need of legal services * * *.” See Rule 1.0(j).

  • Division (d), regarding preservice solicitation of defendants in civil actions, has been inserted.

  • Division (e), regarding direct solicitation requirements respecting solicitation of accident or disaster victims and their families, has been inserted.

Added to the rule is Comment [7A], which discusses the rationale for inclusion of the new division (e).