The Florida Bar
www.floridabar.org

RULE 4-7.18 DIRECT CONTACT WITH PROSPECTIVE CLIENTS

4 RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT
4-7 INFORMATION ABOUT LEGAL SERVICES

RULE 4-7.18 DIRECT CONTACT WITH PROSPECTIVE CLIENTS

(a) Solicitation. Except as provided in subdivision (b) of this rule, a lawyer may not:


    (1) solicit, or permit employees or agents of the lawyer to solicit on the lawyer's behalf, professional employment from a prospective client with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship, in person or otherwise, 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, telegraph, or facsimile, or by other communication directed to a specific recipient and includes any written form of communication, including any electronic mail communication, directed to a specific recipient and not meeting the requirements of subdivision (b) of this rule and rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.17 of these rules.

    (2) enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect a fee for professional employment obtained in violation of this rule.


(b) Written Communication.

    (1) A lawyer may not send, or knowingly permit to be sent, on the lawyer's behalf or on behalf of the lawyer's firm or partner, an associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer's firm, a written communication directly or indirectly to a prospective client for the purpose of obtaining professional employment if:

      (A) the written communication concerns an action for personal injury or wrongful death or otherwise relates to an accident or disaster involving the person to whom the communication is addressed or a relative of that person, unless the accident or disaster occurred more than 30 days prior to the mailing of the communication;

      (B) the written communication concerns a specific matter and the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the person to whom the communication is directed is represented by a lawyer in the matter;

      (C) it has been made known to the lawyer that the person does not want to receive such communications from the lawyer;

      (D) the communication involves coercion, duress, fraud, overreaching, harassment, intimidation, or undue influence;

      (E) the communication violates rules 4-7.11 through 4-7.17 of these rules;

      (F) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the physical, emotional, or mental state of the person makes it unlikely that the person would exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer; or

      (G) the communication concerns a request for an injunction for protection against any form of physical violence and is addressed to the respondent in the injunction petition, if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the respondent named in the injunction petition has not yet been served with notice of process in the matter.


    (2) Written communications to prospective clients for the purpose of obtaining professional employment that are not prohibited by subdivision (b)(1) are subject to the following requirements:

      (A) Such communications are subject to the requirements of 4-7.11 through 4-7.17 of these rules.

      (B) Each page of such communication and the face of an envelope containing the communication must be reasonably prominently marked "advertisement" in ink that contrasts with both the background it is printed on and other text appearing on the same page. If the written communication is in the form of a self-mailing brochure or pamphlet, the "advertisement" mark must be reasonably prominently marked on the address panel of the brochure or pamphlet and on each panel of the inside of the brochure or pamphlet. If the written communication is sent via electronic mail, the subject line must begin with the word "Advertisement." Brochures solicited by clients or prospective clients need not contain the "advertisement" mark.

      (C) Every written communication must be accompanied by a written statement detailing the background, training and experience of the lawyer or law firm. This statement must include information about the specific experience of the advertising lawyer or law firm in the area or areas of law for which professional employment is sought. Every written communication disseminated by a lawyer referral service must be accompanied by a written statement detailing the background, training, and experience of each lawyer to whom the recipient may be referred.

      (D) If a contract for representation is mailed with the written communication, the top of each page of the contract must be marked "SAMPLE" in red ink in a type size one size larger than the largest type used in the contract and the words "DO NOT SIGN" must appear on the client signature line.

      (E) The first sentence of any written communication prompted by a specific occurrence involving or affecting the intended recipient of the communication or a family member must be: "If you have already retained a lawyer for this matter, please disregard this letter."

      (F) Written communications must not be made to resemble legal pleadings or other legal documents.

      (G) If a lawyer other than the lawyer whose name or signature appears on the communication will actually handle the case or matter, or if the case or matter will be referred to another lawyer or law firm, any written communication concerning a specific matter must include a statement so advising the client.

      (H) Any written communication prompted by a specific occurrence involving or affecting the intended recipient of the communication or a family member must disclose how the lawyer obtained the information prompting the communication. The disclosure required by this rule must be specific enough to enable the recipient to understand the extent of the lawyer's knowledge regarding the recipient's particular situation.

      (I) A written communication seeking employment by a specific prospective client in a specific matter shall not reveal on the envelope, or on the outside of a self-mailing brochure or pamphlet, the nature of the client's legal problem.


    (3) The requirements in subdivision (b)(2) of this rule do not apply to communications between lawyers, between lawyers and their own current and former clients, or between lawyers and their own family members.

Comment


Prior Professional Relationship

Persons with whom the lawyer has a prior professional relationship are exempted from the general prohibition against direct, in-person solicitation. A prior professional relationship requires that the lawyer personally had a direct and continuing relationship with the person in the lawyer's capacity as a professional. Thus, a lawyer with a continuing relationship as the patient of a doctor, for example, does not have the professional relationship contemplated by the rule because the lawyer is not involved in the relationship in the lawyer's professional capacity. Similarly, a lawyer who is a member of a charitable organization totally unrelated to the practice of law and who has a direct personal relationship with another member of that organization does not fall within the definition.

On the other hand, a lawyer who is the legal advisor to a charitable board and who has direct, continuing relationships with members of that board does have prior professional relationships with those board members as contemplated by the rule. Additionally, a lawyer who has a direct, continuing relationship with another professional where both are members of a trade organization related to both the lawyer's and the nonlawyer's practices would also fall within the definition. A lawyer's relationship with a doctor because of the doctor's role as an expert witness is another example of a prior professional relationship as provided in the rule.

A lawyer who merely shared a membership in an organization in common with another person without any direct, personal contact would not have a prior professional relationship for purposes of this rule. Similarly, a lawyer who speaks at a seminar does not develop a professional relationship within the meaning of the rule with seminar attendees merely by virtue of being a speaker.

Disclosing Where the Lawyer Obtained Information

In addition, the lawyer or law firm should reveal the source of information used to determine that the recipient has a potential legal problem. Disclosure of the information source will help the recipient to understand the extent of knowledge the lawyer or law firm has regarding the recipient's particular situation and will avoid misleading the recipient into believing that the lawyer has particularized knowledge about the recipient's matter if the lawyer does not. The lawyer or law firm must disclose sufficient information or explanation to allow the recipient to locate the information that prompted the communication from the lawyer.

Alternatively, the direct mail advertisement would comply with this rule if the advertisement discloses how much information the lawyer has about the matter.

For example, a direct mail advertisement for criminal defense matters would comply if it stated that the lawyer's only knowledge about the prospective client's matter is the client's name, contact information, date of arrest and charge. In the context of securities arbitration, a direct mail advertisement would comply with this requirement by stating, if true, that the lawyer obtained information from a list of investors, and the only information on that list is the prospective client's name, address, and the fact that the prospective client invested in a specific company.

Group or Prepaid Legal Services Plans

This rule would not prohibit a lawyer from contacting representatives of organizations or groups that may be interested in establishing a group or prepaid legal plan for its 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 that the lawyer or the lawyer's law firm is willing to offer. This form of communication is not directed to a specific prospective client known to need legal services related to a particular matter. 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 clients of the lawyer. Under these circumstances, the activity that 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 other rules in this subchapter.

[Revised: 05/01/2013]