Offering Prospective Client a Computer Tablet in Direct Mail Solicitation
Opinion rules that a lawyer may not offer a computer tablet to a prospective client in a direct mail solicitation letter.
Lawyer represents clients in personal injury matters. Lawyer advertises his legal services by way of targeted direct mail solicitation. The solicitation letter includes a flyer that states:
NEW CLIENTS TO LAW FIRM: NEW COMPUTER TABLET
New clients of law firm wishing to communicate electronically may be issued a computer tablet with an internet-capable web cam that will allow low cost-free video conferences and electronic mail directly with the lawyer.
Disclaimer: Any equipment issued is issued free-of-charge to new clients to better facilitate communication with the law firm during representation.
The flyer does not indicate that the computer tablet is on loan and must be returned to Lawyer at the conclusion of the representation.
After a client hires the firm, Lawyer presents the client with an office equipment agreement. The agreement provides that the tablet must be returned to Lawyer at the end of the representation and, at that time, the client will have the option to purchase the tablet at cost. The client must pay for the tablet if it is not returned timely and in good condition. If the tablet is damaged, the client agrees to repair the tablet, replace the tablet with one of equal value, or purchase the tablet at cost from Lawyer.
May Lawyer offer a computer tablet to a prospective client in a direct mail solicitation letter?
No. A lawyer shall not make false or misleading communications about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. Rule 7.1. Neither Lawyer’s direct mail solicitation letter nor the flyer makes clear that the tablet is on loan and must be returned at the conclusion of the representation unless the client elects to purchase the tablet from Lawyer. The disclaimer included on the flyer is inadequate under the circumstances and is misleading.
Even with an adequate disclaimer, Lawyer’s direct mail solicitation campaign is not permissible. A lawyer may advertise legal services by way of direct mail solicitation letters, but is prohibited from engaging in in-person, live, or telephone solicitation of prospective clients with whom the lawyer has no prior professional relationship. Rule 7.3. Rule 7.3(a) prohibits lawyer-initiated telephone solicitation of a prospective client because of the potential for abuse inherent in live telephone contact by a lawyer with a person known to be in need of legal services. An offer of promotional merchandise, whether on loan or as a gift, in a targeted direct mail solicitation letter is an inducement to a prospective client to call the lawyer’s office solely to inquire about the merchandise, thereby giving the lawyer the improper opportunity to solicit the caller in person. 2004 FEO 2 (lawyer may not offer promotional merchandise in a targeted direct mail solicitation letter as an inducement to call the lawyer's office).
Lawyer sends direct mail solicitation letters to prospective clients known to be in need of legal services. Lawyer does not offer merchandise to prospective clients in the solicitation letter. After being hired by a client, may Lawyer offer to clients temporary use of a computer tablet for purposes of communicating with Lawyer or gathering information and/or evidence to be used for the client’s matter?
Rule 1.8(e) prohibits a lawyer from providing financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, except the lawyer may advance court costs and expenses of litigation.
Pursuant to comment  to Rule 1.8:
Lawyers may not subsidize lawsuits or administrative proceedings brought on behalf of their clients, including making or guaranteeing loans to their clients for living expenses, because to do so would encourage clients to pursue lawsuits that might not otherwise be brought and because such assistance gives lawyers too great a financial stake in the litigation. These dangers do not warrant a prohibition on a lawyer lending a client court costs and litigation expenses, including the expenses of medical examination and the costs of obtaining and presenting evidence, because these advances are virtually indistinguishable from contingent fees and help ensure access to the courts. Similarly, an exception allowing lawyers representing indigent clients to pay court costs and litigation expenses regardless of whether these funds will be repaid is warranted. [Emphasis added.]
Lawyer may loan a tablet to a client provided the tablet is necessary for the client to communicate with Lawyer and/or for the collection of evidence; the tablet is not quid pro quo for hiring Lawyer or law firm; and the client understands that the tablet is not a gift, but is on loan and must be returned to Lawyer or purchased at the end of the representation. Lawyer may not give a tablet to a client solely for use that is unrelated to the representation because to do so would be tantamount to loaning money to the client for living expenses. See 2001 FEO 7 (advancing cost of rental car prohibited if vehicle used only occasionally for client’s transportation to medical exams).