There’s a criminal attorney in Houston (I’ll call him “Ollie”) who is a really busy guy. Ollie reportedly has a cab driver who waits outside the jail in the wee hours of the morning when people are released on bond and refers them to Ollie for representation. Ollie charges a nominal fee ($500 or so to start); he will even fill out the clients’ retainer checks for them.
How do I know this? Because in the last couple of weeks I’ve been retained by no fewer than three of Ollie’s clients. I’m sure there will be many more; I’ve thought about carrying a throwdown “motion to substitute counsel in place of Ollie” in my briefcase so that I can just fill in a couple of blanks to replace Ollie on a case.
Is there something wrong with a cab driver referring clients to a lawyer, or a lawyer using a cab driver to do so? I refer you to Section 38.12 of the Texas Penal Code for the Texas law on the subject, and to Underdog Blog’s Jon Katz for an opinion on the constitutionality of that law. But legal or not, cabdrivertising is ugly.
The lawyer who has a cabdriver outside the jail “bird-dogging” clients (as one of the clients put it) is catching people at their most vulnerable: shaken-up and often disoriented from the experience of having been tossed in jail, processed, and released on bond. Often they are still under the influence of whatever drug landed them in jail in the first place. Even if it weren’t illegal, personal solicitation of clients in this condition is abhorrent.
Ollie isn’t the only lawyer preying on the vulnerability of the accused. Lots of attorneys don’t scruple to make potential clients think that hiring a lawyer is more urgent than it really is.
Consider DWI attorneys who tell potential clients that they must hire counsel within 15 days to request an administrative license revocation (ALR) hearing, when in fact the instructions for requesting a live hearing are right there on the DIC-25 form that DWI arrestees generally receive, and are simple enough that anyone who can read and write English and operate a fax machine can request his own ALR hearing.
A conscientious lawyer would advise a potential DWI client that much of the urgency of hiring a lawyer could be alleviated by the client requesting a live ALR hearing, because people make better decisions when they’re not under the strain of having to make a decision right now.
It’s not only DWI lawyers who put the screws to the accused, though. In Harris County’s criminal courts, nothing bad is going to happen to an accused who turns up for his first court appearance without a lawyer — the court is going to give him a new court date, marking the reset form “THA” for “To Hire Attorney”. Yet more than once I’ve had to soothe a potential client’s panic because some other Houston criminal attorney has painted a vivid picture of dire consequences for not hiring that lawyer right away.
The truth is that, once you’ve gotten yourself bailed out of jail, there’s no reason for there to be any more emergencies in your criminal case in Harris County unless you create emergencies for yourself. Get to court on time, quit using drugs, and don’t break the law. That’ll most likely keep you out of jail. Start gathering your money together for legal fees, and take your time finding the right lawyer for your case. Better to wait and hire the right lawyer than to hire the wrong lawyer first.
I think Ollie’s clients would tend to agree.