There is a Lawyer in My Mailbox!
If you have ever been in a car accident in North Carolina, you may have been shocked at the amount of mail you suddenly get. One of my clients recently got into an accident and brought into my office stacks of letters and documents from attorneys, some hundreds of miles away, asking to represent her in her personal injury lawsuit. Other than a few chiropractor letters for accidents, or mortgage refinancing letters every time you buy some property, I don’t know of any other business or profession that relies on this type of targeted direct mail.
These attorneys (and chiropractors) are able to do this because accident reports are public records. In years past, attorneys or sometimes a paid third-party service would hang by the courthouse or police station getting copies of the accident reports as they came in. Thanks to the Internet, it is even easier now with the reports readily available. In my hometown of Wilmington, the reports are available here. Accident report in hand, the lawyer or his staff can send out the canned letter or package to arrive at your door almost before you get home from the Emergency Room. This practice may get a bit harder soon as there is a new bill in the NC House that would allow a person in a accident to opt out of receiving any solicitation from that report.
One reason why lawyers use this type of direct mail solicitation is because the North Carolina State Bar, the organization that regulates the profession, has strict rules about an attorney communicating his services to a non-client. The Bar is concerned about maintaining the professionalism of attorneys, especially in today’s climate and stereotypes of the “ambulance chasing” lawyer. However, the Bar can’t totally ban all types of advertising because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that would violate the 1st Amendment and Free Speech. That is why lawyers are, with some parameters, able to advertise on TV, radio, billboards, and other places. Even more restrictive is direct solicitation where an individual is targeted for the lawyer’s services as opposed to a TV ad that is aimed at anybody who tunes in. Most direct solicitation of non-clients of lawyers is prohibited by the Bar, with the exception of the direct mail. Since direct phone calls, door-to-door, emails, and other direct solicitation is out, direct mail is the only route available. Even that is restricted; you’ll notice the big disclaimer on all that correspondence saying “THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR LEGAL SERVICES.”
While I assume that these direct mail advertisements are effective for the lawyers who take advantage of them in finding good clients, are they effective for the potential client to find a good lawyer? Those ads are certainly a good starting place, just like yellow page ads, or legal websites, but don’t solely rely on them to choose your attorney.
–Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC who specializes in Personal Injury, Car Accidents, Medical Malpractice, Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.