Maybe the friendly stranger even has a card for lawyer Jones. Or more incredibly, a fee agreement.
Now, is it possible that this sort of an encounter is on the “up and up?” Sure. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone telling someone else about a good experience with an Erie lawyer. In fact, we rely on the positive recommendations that our former clients provide to their friends and family (thank you, by the way). But the sort of behavior I’ve described above is almost never an example of one person just trying to help another. The scenario described above screams, “Runner!”
What is a “Runner?” There are two kinds of runners in the world of personal injury. The first is someone who “runs” court papers to the Courthouse or other lawyer offices. Nothing wrong with that. The second is someone who gets paid to find and solicit injury clients for a lawyer. It is unethical and wrong for a lawyer to use this second kind of runner.
The Rules of Professional Conduct provide that “A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services…” Rule 7.2(c). The Rules also provide that “A lawyer shall not solicit in-person or by intermediary professional employment from a prospective client with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship…unless the person contacted is a lawyer or has a family, close personal or prior professional relationship with the lawyer…” Rule 7.3(a).
I’ve long known that runners are a fact of life in other communities. Until this weekend, however, I’d not heard of runners being used by Erie personal injury lawyers. In fact, I’m still not sure that an Erie personal injury lawyer is implicated in the story I heard. For all I know, the runners I’ve been told about are working for one of the many personal injury firms outside of Erie who seek Erie personal injury clients.
Regardless of who is behind it, injured people in Erie should beware. A stranger who approaches you like this is probably not acting with your best interest in mind. On the contrary, this person is probably working for an unethical lawyer. If you don’t know the person talking to you and you haven’t asked for their advice about a lawyer, you should take their recommendation and put it on your “do not call” list. Nothing good can come of hiring a lawyer who would engage in such an inappropriate practice.