In the West, an ambulance chaser refers to a lawyer who follows an ambulance to the scene of an accident in order to solicit the injured person into signing a contingency-fee agreement as a new personal-injury client. Ambulance chasing, sometimes known as barratry, is a professional slur which refers to a lawyer soliciting clients at a disaster site.
“Ambulance chaser” would be a harshly negative term to use for a lawyer and not the kind of thing to call a lawyer who you might wish to befriend (sort of like calling a doctor a quack), although many lawyers have a sense of humour about it. And even though the term may mean little to non-lawyers, it may be perceived as an inside joke or even a compliment for both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel – “ambulance chaser” is unambiguously derogatory, implying a mixture of greed, desperation and exploitation.
The real ambulance chasers are the modern day lawyers (fine, some of them) who see terrible stories in the headlines and either send private investigators to check out the scene or drive out there themselves to solicit, sometimes browbeat, a potential client into representation by hook or crook, making guarantees, offering bribes, etc. All they want to do is take advantage of the situation. We see them every day on TV, print media and social media. It may be a small fraction of the legal world, but it exists.
What’s Wrong With Ambulance Chasing?
Well, many things. A person who is suffering and has just been through a traumatic event, is often in pain and stress and in no condition to make the very serious decision of which lawyer should represent her or him.
Secondly, the person doing the soliciting and wanting to be hired is taking advantage of that fact and is often lying about her or his ability and success record. But these people do not have the client’s best interest at heart and are often not experienced or qualified to handle the case. And, frankly, they take away business from lawyers who are actually ethical, experienced and qualified, while using their own name to get fame as they are big believers of shortcuts in life.
Impact on the Legal Profession and Public Perception
Besides the obvious invasion of privacy associated with these business practices, perhaps the most troubling issue with ambulance chasers is that their business strategy only encourages frivolous lawsuits and continues to facilitate the negative perception held by many people when it comes to lawyers. This business strategy is effectively equated to telemarketing for lawyers – something that is prohibited by the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act. The lawyers who participate in these unethical practices are doing a major disservice to the profession, increasing the possibility of frivolous lawsuits that not only present a significant financial burden to taxpayers but also waste the precious time of courts that are already burdened.
Many people believe that all lawyers engage in unethical practices. Much like every other profession, most of the lawyers practising today are very ethical individuals. The unethical minority ruins the reputation of the ethical majority. They diminish public confidence in the legal profession and give the profession a bad name, doing more damage to the already damaged reputation of the legal profession.
What are the Rules of Professional Conduct?
The rules and model code of professional conduct lay out ethical rules that practising lawyers must follow, including specific rules with regard to the solicitation of clients. However, the rules of ethics against ambulance chasing are rarely enforced, thus, chasing is rampant.
Victims and aggrieved persons should have the freedom to make their own decisions about legal representation after an incident and they should not be subjected to repetitive and harassing phone calls from ambulance chasers who do not have the client’s best interests in mind and are just not the kind of people they would want representing their legal interests. At the end of the day, it is the client’s decision not the lawyer’s.
What To Do With Ambulance Chasers?
The practice of ambulance chasing is unethical. If a lawyer is willing to engage in this unethical practice she or he will likely be willing to engage in further unethical and degrading practices. It is best to avoid such lawyers. One must do some research before hiring a lawyer. One should look for a lawyer who is qualified and has experience putting her or his clients’ interests ahead of her or his own.
Sun Tzu has said that a good commander is unconcerned with fame. Lawyers must also renounce fame as an ultimate value of their efforts and should not be greedy in letting their actions be motivated by selfish goals.
God help us all.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.