Lawyer Advertising, Old People, Plaintiffs Firms, State Judges, Technology, Tort Reform

The Ohio Supreme Court Does Not Know What A Text Message Is

The kind of person who makes the rules about lawyer advertising through text messages.

When I find myself pontificating on lawyer propriety, you know things are bad. But a new ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court leaves me with no choice. Ohio has decided that it’s okay for lawyers to text message accident victims to advertise their services.

Can you imagine sitting in a hospital, recovering from injuries, and then getting a text message from an unknown number: “R U OK? I can get U $$$. I sue ppl 4 U!”

We live in a world where the Ohio Supreme Court said that such solicitations are “helpful.” In other news, we live in a world where old judges who don’t know what the f**k they’re talking about get to make the rules about technology they don’t understand….

The Ohio Supreme Court approved an advisory position from its Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline. From the Columbus Dispatch:

[L]awyers are permitted to use text messages to solicit business, assuming they comply with other rules that regulate attorney advertising. Lawyers sending the messages are required to pick up all the costs of the texting. 

“The opinion tries to set out the parameters so that everyone plays by the same rules,” said Rick Dove, the board’s secretary.

Dove said the opinion reflects changing technology that gives lawyers another way to communicate with prospective clients.

Some people argue that there shouldn’t be any restrictions at all on lawyer advertising. I find that these people tend to be social Darwinists who think that stupid people exist for the profit and merriment of smarter people, but the pro-advertising faction acts like lawyer advertising is a way to protect and inform people of their rights.

There are people — especially the weakest and dumbest among us — who are actually ignorant of their rights after accidents. I could argue that that’s the fault of a public education system that doesn’t teach basic civics to citizens. But whatever, the Ohio Supreme Court is not about to reform American high school education.

There are, however, lots of ways to ameliorate the problem of uninformed victims without encouraging desperate attorneys to circle like buzzards over accident victims. One might want to regulate all the tricks insurance companies use to bully unrepresented victims into settlements. Hell, one might even relax statues of limitations to give victims every opportunity to learn their rights post accident and (hopefully) recovery. If I wanted to get real liberal, I would even suggest hiring public employees whose job it is to educate victims about their rights and options. There are lots of ways to solve this problem. Lawyer text advertising is the laziest and probably most ineffective.

Victoria Nowarah, a 20-year-old accident victim interviewed by the Columbus Dispatch, explained the problem with lawyer advertising quite nicely:

“The only thing I worry about is the lawyer being genuine,” she said. “Do they really want to help you win your case or do they just want money? Do they want to help you the best way possible or rip you off? I could see a situation happening where the victim really doesn’t need a lawyer, but the lawyer won’t tell them that, because they want to get paid.”

Ah, from the mouths of babes. Every lawyer who will send you a text message solicitation “just want[s] money.” EVERY ONE. If helping you with your case happens to make them money, they’re down for that too. But there is no such thing as a lawyer who text-messages you after your accident who doesn’t think you need a lawyer.

Allowing lawyers to text victims is so obviously bad, you have to really ask why Ohio did this. From Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice:

This raises an issue that may be more troubling than sleazy lawyers who would engage in such offensive conduct. So the court says it’s cool. Does that suggest that the Ohio Supreme Court has no clue what it’s approving, that it has bought into the dulcet tones of marketing lawyers who just want to help people? Or does it suggest that the need for lawyers to make money trumps all considerations of decency and dignity?

My guess is that the Ohio Supreme Court is just so hopelessly out of touch and ignorant of technology that they approved this without even a passing understanding of what they were really doing. I’m accusing them of gross stupidity as opposed to active malice.

Think about this: Ohio still prohibits lawyers from calling victims on the phone. Nothing says “I have no clue how people use this technology” than a person who thinks receiving a robo-call is substantially less invasive than a text message. When was the last time you answered the phone from a number that you didn’t recognize? My mother does that. She’s old. When I get a phone call (not a text, not an email, but an actual ring-ring telephone call) from a number or a person I don’t recognize, I NEVER answer it.

But I can’t help reading my texts. If you get my number and text me, I have to read it, even as I am in the process of deleting it.

Moreover, do you remember the part where Ohio said lawyers could advertise via text as long as all of the advertising disclosures are made? Well, how do you do that in texts that are limited as to characters? You guessed it, MULTIPLE texts. So now, a lawyer can’t call me, but he can send eight freaking text messages directly to my phone.

Oh, and Ohio also says lawyers have to pick up any data charges for their solicitations… so there’s a rule that is IMPOSSIBLE to enforce. Who’s going to send a lawyer they’ve never met before a bill for 12 cents? And then there’s this:

The board said that lawyers are not allowed to solicit business from prospective clients in Internet chat rooms, saying that chats would fall under the prohibition against “real-time or live conversation.”

IN WHAT UNIVERSE ARE THESE OLD FOGIES LIVING IN WHERE TEXTING CAN’T HAPPEN IN “REAL TIME”???

Is it possible that nobody on the Ohio Supreme Court has ever sent or received a text message? Is it possible that the Ohio Supreme Court thinks of a cell phone as a “portable telephone” instead of a HUD display for your life? Is it possible that the Ohio Supreme Court doesn’t even know what a HUD is?

This is what happens when you have old people making rulings regulating technology they can’t be bothered to understand. Being against texted lawyer solicitations isn’t a “conservative” position, it’s a position based on a modern understanding to the technology involved.

I really hope somebody posts this on the Facebook page of one of the Ohio justices. Maybe they’ll send me a “letter to the editor” in the mail and I can post their response in 16 weeks.

Personal-injury lawyers can now pitch accident victims services via text messages [Columbus Dispatch]
The Future of Law: Now Even Sleazier! [Simple Justice]

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