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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ambulance Chasers

     Years ago, when the legal cannon of ethics prohibited lawyers from advertising their services, a number of unethical attorneys would literally follow ambulances to emergency rooms where they solicited business from accident victims, encouraging them to sue. Today, civil litigators don't have to chase ambulances, they simply solicit personal injury and wrongful death clients through television ads.

     In a New York Times blog posted on May 14, 2010, a Montclair, New Jersey resident wrote about what happened after her husband was involved in a fender-bender car accident. There were no injuries, the car was quickly repaired, and in a week the incident was history. At that point the car owner began getting next-day delivery letters from attorneys with a common pitch: "I just had to get to you before it's too late--call me immediately for a free consultation to possibly receive cash payments for injuries." This potential client, following this minor traffic accident, received seven letters from lawyers and one from a rehabilitation center, plus a phone call from a chiropractor.

     John Grisham, the best-selling author of legal thrillers ("The Firm"), spoke recently to a CNN correspondent about his new book, "The Litigators." The novel features two attorneys in a "boutique law" firm which is nothing more than a third-rate operation run by a couple of ambulance chasers. Asked by the correspondent what inspired the novel, Grisham said, "I think it goes back to what seems to be a deluge of lawyers advertising on televison. The airwaves are just flooded these days with what I find to be unseemly appeals for cases by lawyers, all types of cases, tractor-trailer accidents, medical malpractice, mass tort drugs, asbestos and things like that. You've got these lawyers who come on with these high powered, very expensive ads, who just sign up as many cases as possible and if you have time to read the fine print on the TV screen, most of these cases they bundle them up and sell them to other law firms, so these guys are just peddling their names....They're in the big cities by the thousands, hustling around trying to get cases. They're in small towns where there's not quite as much business and they're still hustling around trying to get injury cases or more lucrative cases, but they're everywhere."

     The fact that Grisham practiced law for several years lends credibility and a sense of reality to his novels. While he is not a particularly fine writer, his books are tightly plotted and populated by interesting and realistic characters. "The Litigators," an unflattering look at one segment of the legal profession, is already a best-seller.   

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