If you get into a car accident in Chicago or a nearby area that is not your fault and you have an injury, there is some advice to know. Call the police so there’s an official report of what happened. Go to the doctor ASAP so your injuries can be documented. Oh, and get ready to be flooded with calls, texts and even in person visits from personal injury attorneys or their representatives.

That’s right, if you get hurt in a car accident and there’s a police report or any other injury that makes the news, scumbag PI lawyers, especially in the Chicago area, will be seeking you out.

When I became a lawyer I was certainly naive and didn’t think this type of stereotypical ambulance chasing actually happened. But it does all of the time.

Some attorneys have cops that they pay to either hand out their business cards or give them information on accidents. Others buy traffic crash reports which contains your personal information. Some will merely send you a letter or post card. If it says “lawyer advertisement” on it, that’s considered permissible free speech.

What they aren’t supposed to do under Illinois ethic laws is solicit you verbally if they don’t have a prior relationship with you. The way they get around that is to have “runners”, who are non-attorneys, approach you and try to get you to sign. And it won’t be 1-2 people contacting you, but 10-20 firms or more trying this slimy tactic. I can’t imagine running a business in that way.

The ARDC or Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission is in charge of licensing and disciplining attorneys in Illinois. They surely must be aware of this not so hidden secret as it’s routinely discussed on various listservs and it’s being done in such a blatant way. Just recently within 24 hours I had two calls from potential clients. One was talking to a non-lawyer who had shown up at her home to try and sign her family member up. The other was injured while in town on vacation and had received numerous calls and texts.

There are hundreds of great, ethical attorneys who would never take this approach. There are also hundreds who are doing it because they don’t think they can compete any other way or they just don’t care about ethics. Many of those are from nation wide firms who are setting up shop in Chicago and other major cities and aren’t really here, at least not in terms of having their main lawyers in Chicago.

And this is just a symptom of a huge ethical problem in the legal industry. Some claims I’ve heard repeated beyond all of this include:

  • Allegedly the major accidents division of the Chicago Police Department routing cases to certain lawyers for referral fees (which is illegal).
  • Church leaders receiving compensation for directing members to certain lawyers.
  • Injury firms throwing golf outings and other parties for union leaders, cops and other referral sources where they have a “raffle” in which everyone wins a prize that includes lavish trips, big screen TV’s, cash, etc.
  • Law firms buying gifts and groceries for injury victims to entice them to sign (also illegal).

Any time I hear from someone who says they’ve been solicited in unethical ways, I strenuously encourage them to report the lawyer/law firm to the ARDC. I’ve probably made that recommendation over 100 times. I know other lawyers have done the same. Yet I can’t recall one disciplinary investigation over this in the last decade. It’s certain that nothing has been done to dissuade this predatory behavior. And I have no idea why.

I usually hear from people who have been approached in one of two ways. The first is that they are being flooded with calls and contacts and don’t know what to do. They usually find this approach as gross as I do. The second is a couple of years after the case is going on when they get a settlement offer. I usually hear something like, “I signed with this lawyer because he promised me my case was worth at least a million dollars, but now he’s telling me to settle for $75,000.”

In almost every instance when that happens and I ask how they got the lawyer in the first place, they tell me the attorney reached out to them.

On behalf of every Illinois attorney who believes in ethics and that attorneys whose actions bring shame on the legal system as a whole should be disciplined, I’m begging the ARDC to show leadership in a way that appears to have been lacking.