Barratry: Case Runners’ Tactics
Unethical attorneys use an array of sources to illegally acquire cases including telemarketers, hospital employees, police officers, funeral home personnel, news reporters, clergy . . . and the list goes on. Ambulance chasers are able to make millions of dollars through this network of referral sources. Case runners often have contacts that reach across several continents and use those contacts to hustle cases ranging from local car accidents to international airplane crashes.
These illegal solicitors refer accident victims to personal injury lawyers in exchange for large sums of money. In return for the case runner’s efforts, attorneys advance these individuals money for signing up a case and/or award them substantial portions of fees once a case is resolved. The illegal solicitor keeps a portion of this money and uses the rest to pay his or her network of contacts who hustled the case. Some ambulance chasers maintain a financial interest in these cases even after they are referred out to a law firm. This practice is in direct violation of Rule 5.04 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits lawyers from sharing fees with non-lawyers.
Non-attorneys regularly misrepresent their attorney status to clients in order to persuade clients to sign a contract for representation then refer the cases out to actual attorneys in return for a sizeable fee.
This could even take the form of a non-attorney being represented as a “partner” in a firm with other attorneys. A person is prohibited from practicing law in the state of Texas unless he or she is a member of the State Bar. Under the Texas Government Code, law practice is defined as:
[T]he preparation of a pleading or other document incident to an action or special proceeding or the management of the action or proceeding on behalf of a client before a judge in court as well as a service rendered out of court, including the giving of advice or the rendering of any service requiring the use of legal skill or knowledge, such as preparing a will, contract, or other instrument, the legal effect of which under the facts and conclusions involved must be carefully determined.
Texas courts allow attorneys who are not members of the State Bar of Texas to practice law in the state in limited circumstances. As enumerated in the Texas Government Code, the Texas Supreme Court may promulgate rules outlining the process for limited practice of law by attorneys licensed in another jurisdiction.
Individual attorneys who work alongside a non-lawyer can be held professionally responsible under Rule 5.4 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that a lawyer shall not share fees with a non-lawyer, and a lawyer shall not form a partnership with a non-lawyer to practice law.
Attorneys who accept cases from illegal case runners could face criminal charges! Under the Texas Penal Code Section 38.12(b)(3), it is a third degree felony for a professional to knowing accept employment within the scope of his or her professional license that results from illegal solicitation. A general contract signed by the referring attorney stating that the case was not illegally run is not adequate when all the signs of illegal solicitation are present and likely will not suffice to establish a reasonable inquiry.