Although it makes for a good punchline, personal injury attorneys do not actually spend their days chasing ambulances in hopes of finding new clients, nor are they allowed to. Nor would we want to! Florida attorneys are bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct. (You can see a complete copy of the rules by going to the Florida Bar website at www.floridabar.org.)
Here are four things that personal injury attorneys cannot do:
Follow your ambulance to the hospital and/or ask you to hire us.
We can’t call you out of the blue and ask you to hire us. Our ability to have direct contact with a prospective client is regulated by Rule of Professional Conduct 4-7.18*. The main gist of this rule is that we cannot contact someone (within 30 days of the injury) whom we don’t know because we learned he or she was injured. The injured party, or someone on his or her behalf, has to contact the attorney directly.
Lend you money.
Lawyers are prohibited from providing financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, except that we are able to advance court costs and expenses of litigation**. In other words, we can pay for costs associated with litigating your case, but we cannot give you money for living expenses.
Acquire the rights to “the story” of your personal injury case before your case is concluded.
Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.8 (d) states,
(d) Acquiring Literary or Media Rights. Prior to the conclusion of representation of a client, a lawyer is prohibited from making or negotiating an agreement giving the lawyer literary or media rights to a portrayal or account based in substantial part on information relating to the representation.
Share your private information.
Information you share with your attorney is protected by both the attorney-client privilege and the rule of confidentiality established in professional ethics. The bottom line*** is, except in limited circumstances, your attorney is not allowed to share information disclosed by you if you do not want them to.
* Rule 4-7.18 states in part,
(a) Solicitation. Except as provided in subdivision (b) of this rule, a lawyer may not:
(1) solicit in person, or permit employees or agents of the lawyer to solicit in person on the lawyer’s behalf, professional employment from a prospective client with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain. The term “solicit” includes contact in person, by telephone, by electronic means that include real-time communication face-to-face such as video telephone or video conference, or by other communication directed to a specific recipient that does not meet the requirements of subdivision (b) of this rule and rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.17 of these rules.
** Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.8 (e) states,
(e) Financial Assistance to Client. A lawyer is prohibited from providing financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, except that:
(1) a lawyer may advance court costs and expenses of litigation, the repayment of which may be contingent on the outcome of the matter; and
(2) a lawyer representing an indigent client may pay court costs and expenses of litigation on behalf of the client.
*** Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.6 states,
(a) Consent Required to Reveal Information. A lawyer must not reveal information relating to representation of a client except as stated in subdivisions (b), (c), and (d), unless the client gives informed consent.
(b) When Lawyer Must Reveal Information. A lawyer must reveal confidential information to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:
(1) to prevent a client from committing a crime; or (2) to prevent a death or substantial bodily harm to another.
(c) When Lawyer May Reveal Information. A lawyer may reveal confidential information to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:
(1) to serve the client’s interest unless it is information the client specifically requires not to be disclosed;
(2) to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and client;
(3) to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim against the lawyer based on conduct in which the client was involved;
(4) to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client;
(5) to comply with the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar; or
(6) to detect and resolve conflicts of interest between lawyers in different firms arising from the lawyer’s change of employment or from changes in the composition or ownership of a firm, but only if the revealed information would not compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client.
(d) Exhaustion of Appellate Remedies. When required by a tribunal to reveal confidential information, a lawyer may first exhaust all appellate remedies.
(e) Inadvertent Disclosure of Information. A lawyer must make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.(f) Limitation on Amount of Disclosure. When disclosure is mandated or permitted, the lawyer must disclose no more information than is required to meet the requirements or accomplish the purposes of this rule.