The term “ambulance chaser” may not have originated with attorney Albert Ohralik, but he certainly made a fine example of the type: visiting a casual acquaintance, laid up with grievous injuries in the hospital and pressuring that person to hire Ohralik to pursue a personal injury claim. In upholding Ohio’s restriction on in-person solicitation, the Supreme Court found that such restrictions were permissible when the unique persuasive pressures of in-person attorney communications involving “purely commercial offers of legal assistance to lay persons” are present. As the court put it, such in-person solicitation is distinct from ordinary advertising in several important ways:
“Unlike a public advertisement, which simply provides information and leaves the recipient free to act upon it or not, in-person solicitation may exert pressure and often demands an immediate response, without providing an opportunity for comparison or reflection. The aim and effect of in-person solicitation may be to provide a one-sided presentation and to encourage speedy and perhaps uninformed decisionmaking; there is no opportunity for intervention or counter-education by agencies of the Bar, supervisory authorities, or persons close to the solicited individual. . . . In-person solicitation is as likely as not to discourage persons needing counsel from engaging in a critical comparison of the “availability, nature, and prices” of legal services, cf. Bates, 433 U. S., at 364; it actually may disserve the individual and societal interest, identified in Bates, in facilitating “informed and reliable decision making.” 436 U.S., at 457-58.
Takeaway: Any form of direct solicitation that involves real-time discussion and pressure to choose counsel has the potential to be restricted by the bar. In addition to in-person and telephonic communications, this may also extend to as-yet-undeveloped means of communicating with others in real time.
However, as the court noted in Primus, solicitation that doesn’t have these real-time, decision pressure features cannot be lawfully prohibited.
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