7.03 Solicitation and Other Prohibited Communications

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(a) The following definitions apply to this Rule:

(1) “Regulated telephone, social media, or other electronic contact” means telephone, social media, or electronic communication initiated by a lawyer, or by a person acting on behalf of a lawyer, that involves communication in a live or electronically interactive manner.

(2) A lawyer “solicits” employment by making a “solicitation communication,” as that term is defined in Rule 7.01(b)(2).

(b) A lawyer shall not solicit through in-person contact, or through regulated telephone, social media, or other electronic contact, professional employment from a non-client, unless the target of the solicitation is:

(1) another lawyer;

(2) a person who has a family, close personal, or prior business or professional relationship with the lawyer; or

(3) a person who is known by the lawyer to be an experienced user of the type of legal services involved for business matters.

(c) A lawyer shall not send, deliver, or transmit, or knowingly permit or cause another person to send, deliver, or transmit, a communication that involves coercion, duress, overreaching, intimidation, or undue influence.

(d) A lawyer shall not send, deliver, or transmit, or knowingly permit or cause another person to send, deliver, or transmit, a solicitation communication to a prospective client, if:

(1) the communication is misleadingly designed to resemble a legal pleading or other legal document; or

(2) the communication is not plainly marked or clearly designated an “ADVERTISEMENT” unless the target of the communication is:

(i) another lawyer;

(ii)a person who has a family, close personal, or prior business or professional relationship with the lawyer; or

(iii) a person who is known by the lawyer to be an experienced user of the type of legal services involved for business matters.

(e) A lawyer shall not pay, give, or offer to pay or give anything of value to a person not licensed to practice law for soliciting or referring prospective clients for professional employment, except nominal gifts given as an expression of appreciation that are neither intended nor reasonably expected to be a form of compensation for recommending a lawyer’s services.

(1) This Rule does not prohibit a lawyer from paying reasonable fees for advertising and public relations services or the usual charges of a lawyer referral service that meets the requirements of Texas law.

(2) A lawyer may refer clients to another lawyer or a nonlawyer professional pursuant to an agreement not otherwise prohibited under these Rules that provides for the other person to refer clients or customers to the lawyer, if:

(i) the reciprocal referral agreement is not exclusive;

(ii) clients are informed of the existence and nature of the agreement; and

(iii) the lawyer exercises independent professional judgment in making referrals.

(f) A lawyer shall not, for the purpose of securing employment, pay, give, advance, or offer to pay, give, or advance anything of value to a prospective client, other than actual litigation expenses and other financial assistance permitted by Rule 1.08(d), or ordinary social hospitality of nominal value.

(g) This Rule does not prohibit communications authorized by law, such as notice to members of a class in class action litigation.

Comment:

Solicitation by Public and Charitable Legal Services Organizations

1. Rule 7.01 provides that a “‘solicitation communication’ is a communication substantially motivated by pecuniary gain.” Therefore, the ban on solicitation imposed by paragraph (b) of this Rule does not apply to the activities of lawyers working for public or charitable legal services organizations.

Communications Directed to the Public or Requested

2. A lawyer’s communication is not a solicitation if it is directed to the general public, such as through a billboard, an Internet banner advertisement, a website or a television commercial, or if it is made in response to a request for information, including an electronic search for information. The terms “advertisement” and “solicitation communication” are defined in Rule 7.01(b).

The Risk of Overreaching

3. A potential for overreaching exists when a lawyer, seeking pecuniary gain, solicits a person known to be in need of legal services via in-person or regulated telephone, social media, or other electronic contact. These forms of contact subject a person to the private importuning of the trained advocate in a direct interpersonal encounter. The person, who may already feel overwhelmed by the circumstances giving rise to the need for legal services, may find it difficult to fully evaluate all available alternatives with reasoned judgment and appropriate self‑interest in the face of the lawyer’s presence and insistence upon an immediate response. The situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and overreaching.

4. The potential for overreaching that is inherent in in-person or regulated telephone, social media, or other electronic contact justifies their prohibition, since lawyers have alternative means of conveying necessary information. In particular, communications can be sent by regular mail or e-mail, or by other means that do not involve communication in a live or electronically interactive manner. These forms of communications make it possible for the public to be informed about the need for legal services, and about the qualifications of available lawyers and law firms, with minimal risk of overwhelming a person’s judgment.

5. The contents of live person-to-person contact can be disputed and may not be subject to third‑party scrutiny. Consequently, they are much more likely to approach (and occasionally cross) the dividing line between accurate representations and those that are false and misleading.

Targeted Mail Solicitation

6. Regular mail or e-mail targeted to a person that offers to provide legal services that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know the person needs in a particular matter is a solicitation communication within the meaning of Rule 7.01(b)(2), but is not prohibited by subsection (b) of this Rule. Unlike in-person and electronically interactive communication by “regulated telephone, social media, or other electronic contact,” regular mail and e-mail can easily be ignored, set aside, or reconsidered. There is a diminished likelihood of overreaching because no lawyer is physically present and there is evidence in tangible or electronic form of what was communicated. See Shapero v. Kentucky B. Ass’n, 486 U.S. 466 (1988).

Personal, Family, Business, and Professional Relationships

7. There is a substantially reduced likelihood that a lawyer would engage in overreaching against a former client, a person with whom the lawyer has a close personal, family, business or professional relationship, or in situations in which the lawyer is motivated by considerations other than pecuniary gain. Nor is there a serious potential for overreaching when the person contacted is a lawyer or is known to routinely use the type of legal services involved for business purposes. Examples include persons who routinely hire outside counsel to represent an entity; entrepreneurs who regularly engage business, employment law, or intellectual property lawyers; small business proprietors who routinely hire lawyers for lease or contract issues; and other people who routinely retain lawyers for business transactions or formations.

Constitutionally Protected Activities

8. Paragraph (b) is not intended to prohibit a lawyer from participating in constitutionally protected activities of public or charitable legal-service organizations or bona fide political, social, civic, fraternal, employee, or trade organizations whose purposes include providing or recommending legal services to their members or beneficiaries. See In re Primus, 436 U.S. 412 (1978).

Group and Prepaid Legal Services Plans

9. This Rule does not prohibit a lawyer from contacting representatives of organizations or entities that may be interested in establishing a group or prepaid legal plan for their members, insureds, beneficiaries, or other third parties. Such communications may provide information about the availability and terms of a plan which the lawyer or lawyer’s firm is willing to offer. This form of communication is not directed to persons who are seeking legal services for themselves. Rather, it is usually addressed to a fiduciary seeking a supplier of legal services for others, who may, if they choose, become prospective clients of the lawyer. Under these circumstances, the information transmitted is functionally similar to the types of advertisements permitted by these Rules.

Designation as an Advertisement

10. For purposes of paragraph (d)(2) of this Rule, a communication is rebuttably presumed to be “plainly marked or clearly designated an ‘ADVERTISEMENT’” if: (a) in the case of a letter transmitted in an envelope, both the outside of the envelope and the first page of the letter state the word “ADVERTISEMENT” in bold face all-capital letters that are 3/8” high on a uncluttered background; (b) in the case of an e-mail message, the first word in the subject line is “ADVERTISEMENT” in all capital letters; and (c) in the case of a text message or message on social media, the first word in the message is “ADVERTISEMENT” in all capital letters.

Paying Others to Recommend a Lawyer 11. This Rule allows a lawyer to pay for advertising and communications, including the usual costs of printed or online directory listings or advertisements, television and radio airtime, domain-name registrations, sponsorship fees, and group advertising. A lawyer may compensate employees, agents, and vendors who are engaged to provide marketing or client development services, such as publicists, public-relations personnel, business-development staff, television and radio station employees or spokespersons, and website designers.

12. This Rule permits lawyers to give nominal gifts as an expression of appreciation to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services or referring a prospective client. The gift may not be more than a token item as might be given for holidays, or other ordinary social hospitality. A gift is prohibited if offered or given in consideration of any promise, agreement, or understanding that such a gift would be forthcoming or that referrals would be made or encouraged in the future.

13. A lawyer may pay others for generating client leads, such as Internet-based client leads, as long as the lead generator does not recommend the lawyer, any payment to the lead generator isconsistent with Rule 5.04(a) (division of fees with nonlawyers) and Rule 5.04(c) (nonlawyer interference with the professional independence of the lawyer), and the lead generator’s communications are consistent with Rule 7.01 (communications concerning a lawyer’s services). To comply with Rule 7.01, a lawyer must not pay a lead generator that states, implies, or creates a reasonable impression that it is recommending the lawyer, is making the referral without payment from the lawyer, or has analyzed a person’s legal problems when determining which lawyer should receive the referral. See also Rule 5.03 (duties of lawyers and law firms with respect to the conduct of nonlawyers); Rule 8.04(a)(1) (duty to avoid violating the Rules through the acts of another).

Charges of and Referrals by a Legal Services Plan or Lawyer Referral Service

14. A lawyer may pay the usual charges of a legal services plan or a not-for-profit or qualified lawyer referral service. A legal service plan is a prepaid or group legal service plan or a similar delivery system that assists people who seek to secure legal representation. A lawyer referral service, on the other hand, is any organization that holds itself out to the public as a lawyer referral service. Qualified referral services are consumer-oriented organizations that provide unbiased referrals to lawyers with appropriate experience in the subject matter of the representation and afford other client protections, such as complaint procedures or malpractice insurance requirements.

15. A lawyer who accepts assignments or referrals from a legal service plan or referrals from a lawyer referral service must act reasonably to assure that the activities of the plan or service are compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations. Legal service plans and lawyer referral services may communicate with the public, but such communication must be in conformity with these Rules. Thus, advertising must not be false or misleading, as would be the case if the communications of a group advertising program or a group legal services plan would mislead the public to think that it was a lawyer referral service sponsored by a state agency or bar association.

Reciprocal Referral Arrangements

16. A lawyer does not violate paragraph (e) of this Rule by agreeing to refer clients to another lawyer or nonlawyer professional, so long as the reciprocal referral agreement is not exclusive, the client is informed of the referral agreement, and the lawyer exercises independent professional judgment in making the referral. Reciprocal referral agreements should not be of indefinite duration and should be reviewed periodically to determine whether they comply with these Rules. A lawyer should not enter into a reciprocal referral agreement with another lawyer that includes a division of fees without determining that the agreement complies with Rule 1.04(f).

Meals or Entertainment for Prospective Clients

17. This Rule does not prohibit a lawyer from paying for a meal or entertainment for a prospective client that has a nominal value or amounts to ordinary social hospitality.

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