In recent years, I have received calls from existing and prospective clients advising me that they are being sued.
I always ask, well, have you been served with suit papers, a necessary precondition to proceeding with a lawsuit.
No, the response has commonly been, but I have received letters from lawyers telling me I’m being sued, and offering to represent me.
And yes so it seems, now that the statewide online efiling system, known as “casenet,” is in place, some lawyers around the state have figured out how to assimilate the contact information of everybody who is getting named in different types of court proceedings on a county by county basis, and they are using that information to send mass mailings to solicit the business of prospective clients.
A number of bankruptcy lawyers are prolific at this. Usually, when someone is getting sued by a creditor for bad debt, that is not the only bad debt they have, and so when these lawyers see debt collection lawsuits that have been filed, they offer to “erase their debts through the magic of bankruptcy,” as one of my law professors use to say. For a fee, of course.
I have heard reports that defendants in collection cases often get multiple solicitation letters from bankruptcy lawyers these days, shortly after the suit is filed, and before the process of serving the suit papers takes place.
So these days, many people know in advance that they have been sued, and someone will be trying to serve them suit papers. The effect of this has been that evading service is made much easier by the advance notice, and process servers must be more and more resourceful and persistent to get them served.
Lawyer solicitation letters are also now being routinely sent out by lawyers to recipients of traffic tickets written by state troopers, as these too can be accessed on casenet.
Prior to the late 1970s lawyer solicitation and advertising was strictly forbidden by the rules of professional conduct. The idea was that a lawyer’s reputation for good work should be the sole basis for promoting a lawyer’s services.
That all changed with the landmark case of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that lawyers wishing to promote and advertise their services in ways previously prohibited by the rules were entitled to do so under the First Amendment.
Since that time, we have seen many changes.
Lawyers are advertising on billboards, phone books (which are rarely seen or distributed these days – but when they are, you can usually bet there will be a lawyer’s mug on the cover), the internet, and radio and television commercials.
In response, the regulatory authorities have passed and continue to pass a number of rules that govern and regulate lawyer advertising and solicitation. These tend to seek to limit as much as possible flamboyant, tacky, tasteless and overreaching promotional communications, but subject to the First Amendment right of lawyers to do so.
And now, we have lawyers trolling casenet to send letters to people to let them know that they are getting sued, and that they can help them with bankruptcy, or that traffic ticket they just got.
This all reflects poorly on my chosen profession, in my humble opinion. But I’ve been told more than once that my humble opinions about things are sometimes outdated.
It’s all a reminder that change is inevitable. I suppose I should just accept that.
-- Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org