Supreme Judicial Court Rules

Rules of Professional Conduct

Supreme Judicial Court Rules Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.3: Solicitation of clients

Adopted Date: 07/13/2022
Effective Date: 10/01/2022
Updates: Adopted July 13, 2022, effective October 1, 2022

Table of Contents

(a)

"Solicitation" or "solicit" denotes a communication initiated by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm that is directed to a specific person the lawyer knows or reasonably should know needs legal services in a particular matter and that offers to provide, or reasonably can be understood as offering to provide, legal services for that matter.

(b)

A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment by live person-to-person contact when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's or law firm's pecuniary gain, unless the contact is with a

(1) lawyer;

(2) person who has a family, close personal, or prior business or professional relationship with the lawyer or law firm; or

(3) (i) representative of an organization, including a non-profit or government entity, in connection with the activities of such organization, or (ii) person engaged in trade or commerce as defined in G. L. c. 93A, § 1 (b), in connection with such person's trade or commerce.

(c)

A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (b), if:

(1) the target of the solicitation has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer;

(2) the solicitation involves coercion, duress or harassment; or

(3) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the physical, mental, or emotional state of the target of the solicitation is such that the target cannot exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer, provided, however, the prohibition in this clause (3) only applies to solicitations for a fee.

(d)

This Rule does not prohibit communications authorized by law or ordered by a court or other tribunal.

(e)

Notwithstanding the prohibitions in this Rule, a lawyer may participate with a prepaid or group legal service plan operated by an organization not owned or directed by the lawyer that uses live person-to-person contact to enroll members or sell subscriptions for the plan from persons who are not known to need legal services in a particular matter covered by the plan.

Comment

[1] Paragraph (b) prohibits a lawyer from soliciting professional employment by live person-to-person contact when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's or the law firm's pecuniary gain. A lawyer's communication is not a solicitation if it is directed to the general public, such as through a billboard, an Internet banner advertisement, a website or a television commercial, or if it is in response to a request for information or is automatically generated in response to electronic searches.

[2] For purposes of the prohibition in paragraph (b), "live person-to-person contact" means in-person, face-to-face, live telephone, and other real-time visual or auditory person-to-person communications where the person is subject to a direct personal encounter without time for reflection. Such person-to-person contact does not include text messages or other written communications that recipients may easily disregard. A potential for overreaching exists when a lawyer, seeking pecuniary gain, solicits a person known to be in need of legal services. This form of contact subjects a person to the private importuning of the trained advocate in a direct interpersonal encounter. The person, who may already feel overwhelmed by the circumstances giving rise to the need for legal services, may find it difficult to fully evaluate all available alternatives with reasoned judgment and appropriate self‑interest in the face of the lawyer's presence and insistence upon an immediate response. The situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and over‑reaching. The prohibitions of paragraph (b) do not of course apply to in-person communications after contact has been initiated by a person seeking legal services.

[3] The potential for overreaching inherent in live person-to-person contact justifies its prohibition, since lawyers have alternative means of conveying necessary information. In particular, communications can be mailed or transmitted by email or other electronic means that do not violate other laws. These forms of communications make it possible for the public to be informed about the need for legal services, and about the qualifications of available lawyers and law firms, without subjecting the public to live person-to-person persuasion that may overwhelm a person’s judgment.

[4] The contents of live person-to-person contact 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.

[5] Paragraph (b) acknowledges that there is far less likelihood that a lawyer would engage in overreaching against a former client, or a person with whom the lawyer has a close personal, family, business, or professional 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 overreaching when the person contacted is a lawyer, or is a representative of an organization, including a non-profit or government entity, or is a person engaged in trade or commerce as defined in G. L. c. 93A, § 1 (b), where the contact is in connection with the activities of such organization or the person's trade or commerce. Paragraph (b) 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 their members or beneficiaries.

[6] Prohibited solicitations include those that contain false or misleading information within the meaning of Rule 7.1, that involve contact with someone who has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer within the meaning of Rule 7.3(c)(1), that involve coercion, duress, or harassment within the meaning of Rule 7.3(c)(2), or that involve communications with someone who the lawyer knows or should know cannot exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer within the meaning of Rule 7.3(c)(3). In determining whether a contact is permissible under Rule 7.3(c)(3), it is relevant to consider the times and circumstances under which the contact is initiated. For example, a person undergoing active medical treatment for traumatic injury is unlikely to be in an emotional state in which reasonable judgment about employing a lawyer can be exercised. Likewise, persons who are elderly or disabled, or who are not fluent in the language of the solicitation, may be especially vulnerable to coercion or duress. The reference to the "physical, mental, or emotional state of the target of the solicitation" is intended to be all-inclusive of the condition of such person and includes anyone who for any reason lacks sufficient sophistication to be able to select a lawyer. A proviso in subparagraph (c)(3) makes clear that it is not intended to reduce the ability possessed by nonprofit organizations to contact the elderly and the mentally disturbed or disabled. Abuse of the right to solicit such persons by non-profit organizations may constitute a violation of paragraph (c)(2) of the Rule or Rule 8.4(c) or (d). The references in paragraph (b) and (c)(3) of the Rule to solicitation for "the lawyer's or the law firm's pecuniary gain" or "for a fee" are intended to exempt solicitations by non-profit organizations. Where such an organization is involved, the fact that there may be a statutory entitlement to a fee is not intended by itself to bring the solicitation within the scope of the Rule.

[7] This Rule does not 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 which the lawyer or lawyer's firm is willing to offer. This form of communication is not directed to people who are seeking legal services for themselves. 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 which 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.

[8] Communications authorized by law or ordered by a court or tribunal include a notice to potential members of a class in class action litigation.

[9] Paragraph (e) of this Rule permits a lawyer to participate with an organization that uses personal contact to enroll 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 by or directed (whether as manager or otherwise) by any lawyer or law firm that participates in the plan. For example, paragraph (e) would not permit a lawyer to create an organization controlled directly or indirectly by the lawyer and use the organization for the person-to-person solicitation of legal employment of the lawyer through memberships in the plan or otherwise. The communication permitted by these organizations must not be directed to a person known to need legal services in a particular matter, but must 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 assure that the plan sponsors are in compliance with Rules 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3(c).

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