Every time a major disaster strikes, a pack of lawyers follows, trying to persuade victims and their families to sue. Few things in life seem as predictable as this. It happened again last week after 132 people died in the crash of a USAir jet in Pittsburgh.
No doubt these attorneys often provide a valuable service. They recover money for helpless victims who have been wronged through negligence. They sometimes succeed in changing the ways companies do business in order to better protect the public.One need look no further than the grateful woman in North Carolina who named her son after the attorney who helped her recover money from a chicken plant fire to understand the good that so-called "parachute lawyers" - so named because of the way they descend on the scene of a disaster - can accomplish.
But every grateful client can be offset by handfuls of angry, grieving people whose privacy was invaded during one of the most personal and difficult times of their lives.
Since last week's plane crash, the relatives of victims have reported being bombarded by telephone and mail solicitations.
One person said the survivor of an earlier crash called and offered a testimonial for an attorney. Another reported that an attorney came to a memorial service for one of the victims and had to be escorted out after pestering people.
Each disaster produces several more such examples.
Despite the fact a client named her son after him, the attorney mentioned above can't return to North Carolina. A warrant has been issued for his arrest there because he violated that state's laws against soliciting victims in person. He tried to get a couple recovering in a hospital to sign a contract.
Despite their lofty claims, such lawyers seem to place a higher value on their own pocketbooks than on the interests of their potential clients.
Little can be done to keep attorneys from seeking business. Various bar associations have tried to curtail unethical solicitations, but their stern warnings generally are ignored.
But here's a suggestion for lawyers who want to represent accident victims: Gain your business the old-fashioned way. Earn it through the type of reputation that leads to referrals from other law firms.
This may take a little longer. And it won't lead to instant financial success. But it would be much better for victims and their families and, ultimately, for your own reputations.