What is Barratry in Texas?
Has a lawyer you don’t know contacted you and offered to represent you? Texas has many rules regarding lawyer advertising. One thing is clear, in-person solicitation of legal services is not allowed. For example, if a lawyer reads about a truck accident in the newspaper, it would not be appropriate for that lawyer to look up the address of the accident victims, and call them or visit their homes to try and get hired. There are some exceptions to this rule, one is for past clients, for example. And some forms of advertising by mail are allowed for people who are released from jail.
The barratry law prohibits the lawyer from calling or contacting you in person first. That is, the lawyer or their employee initiates the contact. If you call a lawyer, or get a letter in the mail, or visit their website that can’t be barratry.
So what happens if a lawyer does contact you? And then you hire them? Let’s say that you are in a car accident, and a lawyer calls you up, and you hire them. The lawyer settles your case for $100k, and takes 50% as their fee. Well, you’ve got some options.
Texas law allows you to bring an action to void the contract, and collect attorneys fees in the process, plus an additional $10,000 as a penalty. So in the case of your $100,000 settlement, you could ask for the 50% back, since the contract is void. You’d need to hire a lawyer for the barratry lawsuit, but you’d get your attorneys fees and expenses paid back if you win, PLUS another $10,000 as a penalty.What’s the law on barratry in Texas?
“A client may bring an action to void a contract for legal services that was procured as a result of conduct violating Section 38.12(a) or (b), Penal Code, or Rule 7.03 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of Texas, regarding barratry by attorneys... and to recover any amount that may be awarded under Subsection (b).” TEX. GOV’T CODE § 82.0651(a). A client who prevails in an action under section 82.0651(a) “shall recover from any person who committed barratry” all fees and expenses paid to that person under the contract, actual damages caused by the prohibited conduct, a penalty in the amount of $10,000, and reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees. Id. § 82.0651(b)(1–5).
Rule 7.03(a) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of Texas provides in part:
“A lawyer shall not by in-person contact, or by regulated telephone or other electronic contact as defined in paragraph (f) seek professional employment concerning a matter arising out of a particular occurrence or event, or series of occurrences or events, from a prospective client or nonclient who has not sought the lawyer’s advice regarding employment or with whom the lawyer has no family or past or present attorney-client relationship when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain.”