Legal Ethics

Lawyers may solicit clients by text messages if rules are followed, Ohio ethics opinion says

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Text messages may be “a novel approach to client solicitation,” but they aren’t barred under traditional ethics rules, according to the Ohio Supreme Court’s ethics board.

In an April 5 opinion (PDF), the board said lawyers may solicit clients by text messages as long as they follow telemarketing laws and ethics rules concerning advertising and electronic solicitation, reports the ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual on Professional Conduct.

Ohio bars lawyers from soliciting clients through “in-person, live telephone, or real-time electronic contact.” Chat room solicitations aren’t permissible under this provision, but standard text message are allowed, according to the opinion by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline. The board said text solicitations are more akin to email advertising that is allowed under the ethics rules.

The opinion outlined several Ohio ethics rules that must be followed by texting lawyers. They include rules barring false, misleading or nonverifiable statements and requiring solicitations to include the name and address of at least one lawyer responsible for its content.

Another rule applies when lawyers send texts to people believed to need legal services in a particular matter, the opinion said. The lawyer must explain how he or she became aware of the legal need (such as an accident report or a court docket), must refrain from predicting the outcome, and must “conspicuously” warn that the material is advertising.

Texts soliciting personal injury clients sent within 30 days of an accident or disaster must include a specific “Understanding Your Rights” statement; a hyperlink to a website with the statement isn’t sufficient, according to the opinion.

Lawyers also should be aware of “practical considerations,” the opinion said. The texts should not create a cost for prospective clients, and care should be taken to avoid sending the messages to minors. The opinion also warned that federal and state telemarketing laws should be observed.

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