D.C. Solicitation Bill Gets Enforcement

In 2006, the D.C. Council passed legislation making it a crime for anyone to solicit business for lawyers or medical providers. This bill was aimed at so-called “runners” who would call or visit car accident victims, medical malpractice victims, or other other negligence victims and market for attorneys. These runners were paid to refer cases to lawyers. The entire system was a little seedy. The City Council heard testimony that some runners were very aggressive and engage in really questionable conduct. The DC Dept of Insurance is now actively investigating lawyers who are contacting by phone or in person, people who have recently been in accidents. Several specific complaints are currently under active investigation. And they are looking for more cases to bring, which will be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution. If you have been called by a runner, you can report the behavior to the D.C. Government here:http://www.disb.dc.gov/disr/cwp/view,a,1299,q,632362.asp. I have my issues with this legislation. First, the D.C. Bar is a branch of the D.C. Judiciary, and is governed by the D.C. Court of Appeals. Last year, the D.C. Court of Appeals amended the Rules of Professional Conduct to punish the lawyers that use runners. As a self regulating profession, I believe this is the way to handle things. The D.C. Home Rule Act does not allow the D.C. Council to manipulate or regulate how the Courts or Attorneys govern themselves professionally. Second, I don’t like runners. They are scum. They use really nasty tactics to get clients, like bad-mouthing other lawyers (slander, really), making false promises regarding the merits of cases, and just about anything to get the prospective client to sign with the “runner’s lawyer.” Most of these runners would like to think of themselves as attorneys, but they give incorrect legal advice frequently. These runners are not regulated in any way. The way to handle this is to cut off the ability for lawyers to pay for referrals, which is exactly what the D.C. Court of Appeals did. Lastly, the proponents of this bill are two — the insurance industry, who cried to the D.C. Council that they have to pay claims; and the big money, big advertising firms, who spend a fortune to have ads on cable TV during the day and placards on the tops of taxicabs in D.C. This is simply an anti-competitive issue for these groups, and the D.C. Council took their money and did their bidding. So, for now, report all runners that call, and let’s see if we can put an end to this practice.