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'Airport Lawyers' and the Ethics of In-Person Solicitation

"This past January, many newspapers carried stories of lawyers at airports, including O'Hare, offering assistance to immigrants and their families in light of the January 17 Presidential Executive Order on immigration," ISBA General Counsel Charles Northrup writes in the April Illinois Bar Journal. "The stories were often accompanied by photos of lawyers holding up hand-written signs saying things like 'Need a Lawyer?' or 'Lawyers Here to Help.'"

As Northrup puts it, he is "burdened to view the world through the lens of legal ethics," and his first thought was, "Isn't this improper in-person solicitation?"

Northrup explains that Illinois Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3, which governs in-person solicitation of clients, provides in subsection (a) that "a lawyer shall not by in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain…."

It's the last phrase, he writes, that contains the good news for the airport lawyers. "[A]s attentive readers will have noted, Rule 7.3 permits in-person solicitation that is not significantly motivated by a lawyer's pecuniary gain." And whether "a lawyer volunteer for a not-for-profit organization that ultimately might be awarded a fee can engage in in-person solicitation was decided in the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case In re Primus" – and it was resolved in the lawyer's favor. Read the rest of Northrup's analysis in the April Illinois Bar Journal.

Posted on April 12, 2017 by Mark S. Mathewson
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