Vt. R. Prof. Cond. 7.3

As amended through December 11, 2023
Rule 7.3 - Direct Contact with Prospective Clients
(a) A lawyer shall not by in-person or, live telephone or real-time electronic contact solicit professional employment from a prospective client when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain, unless the person contacted:
(1) is a lawyer; or
(2) has a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.
(b) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment from a prospective client by written, recorded or electronic communication or by in-person, telephone or real-time electronic contact even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (a), if:
(1) the prospective client has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer; or
(2) the solicitation involves coercion, duress or harassment.
(c) Every written or, recorded or electronic communication from a lawyer soliciting professional employment from a prospective client known to be in need of legal services in a particular matter shall include the words "Advertising Material" on the outside envelope, if any, and at the beginning and ending of any recorded or electronic communication, unless the recipient of the communication is a person specified in paragraphs (a)(1) or (a)(2).
(d) Notwithstanding the prohibitions in paragraph (a), a lawyer may participate with a prepaid or group legal service plan operated by an organization not owned or directed by the lawyer which uses in-person or telephone contact to solicit memberships or subscriptions for the plan from persons who are not known to need legal services in a particular matter covered by the plan.

Vt. R. Prof. Cond. 7.3

Amended June 14, 2009, eff. 9/1/2009.

Comment

[1] There is a potential for abuse inherent in direct in-person or, live telephone or real-time electronic contact by a lawyer with a prospective client known to need legal services. These forms of contact between a lawyer and a prospective client subject the layperson to the private importuning of the trained advocate in a direct interpersonal encounter. The prospective client, who may already feel overwhelmed by the circumstances giving rise to the need for legal services, may find it difficult fully to evaluate all available alternatives with reasoned judgment and appropriate self-interest in the face of the lawyer's presence and insistence upon being retained immediately. The situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and overreaching.

[2] This potential for abuse inherent in direct in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic solicitation of prospective clients justifies its prohibition, particularly since lawyer advertising and written and recorded communication permitted under Rule 7.2 offer alternative means of conveying necessary information to those who may be in need of legal services. Advertising and written and recorded communications which may be mailed or autodialed make it possible for a prospective client to be informed about the need for legal services, and about the qualifications of available lawyers and law firms, without subjecting the prospective client to direct in-person, telephone or real-time electronic persuasion that may overwhelm the client's judgment.

[3] The use of general advertising and written, recorded or electronic communications to transmit information from lawyer to prospective client, rather than direct in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact, will help to assure that the information flows cleanly as well as freely. The contents of advertisements and communications permitted under Rule 7.2 can be permanently recorded so that they cannot be disputed and may be shared with others who know the lawyer. This potential for informal review is itself likely to help guard against statements and claims that might constitute false and misleading communications, in violation of Rule 7.1. The contents of direct in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic conversations between a lawyer and a prospective client can be disputed and may not be subject to thirdparty scrutiny. Consequently, they are much more likely to approach (and occasionally cross) the dividing line between accurate representations and those that are false and misleading.

[4] There is far less likelihood that a lawyer would engage in abusive practices against an individual who is a former client, or with whom the lawyer has a close personal or family relationship, or in situations in which the lawyer is motivated by considerations other than the lawyer's pecuniary gain. Nor is there a serious potential for abuse when the person contacted is a lawyer. Consequently, the general prohibition in Rule 7.3(a) and the requirements of Rule 7.3(c) are not applicable in those situations. Also, paragraph (a) is not intended to prohibit a lawyer from participating in constitutionally protected activities of public or charitable legal-service organizations or bona fide political, social, civic, fraternal, employee or trade organizations whose purposes include providing or recommending legal services to its members or beneficiaries.

[5] But even permitted forms of solicitation can be abused. Thus, any solicitation which contains information which is false or misleading within the meaning of Rule 7.1, which involves coercion, duress or harassment within the meaning of Rule 7.3(b)(2), or which involves contact with a prospective client who has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer within the meaning of Rule 7.3(b)(1) is prohibited. Moreover, if after sending a letter or other communication to a client as permitted by Rule 7.2 the lawyer receives no response, any further effort to communicate with the prospective client may violate the provisions of Rule 7.3(b).

[6] This rule is not intended to prohibit a lawyer from contacting representatives of organizations or groups that may be interested in establishing a group or prepaid legal plan for their members, insureds, beneficiaries or other third parties for the purpose of informing such entities of the availability of and details concerning the plan or arrangement which the lawyer or lawyer's firm is willing to offer. This form of communication is not directed to a prospective client. Rather, it is usually addressed to an individual acting in a fiduciary capacity seeking a supplier of legal services for others who may, if they choose, become prospective clients of the lawyer. Under these circumstances, the activity which the lawyer undertakes in communicating with such representatives and the type of information transmitted to the individual are functionally similar to and serve the same purpose as advertising permitted under Rule 7.2.

[7] The requirement in Rule 7.3(c) that certain communications be marked "Advertising Material" does not apply to communications sent in response to requests of potential clients or their spokespersons or sponsors. General announcements by lawyers, including changes in personnel or office location, do not constitute communications soliciting professional employment from a client known to be in need of legal services within the meaning of this rule.

[8] Paragraph (d) of this rule permits a lawyer to participate with an organization which uses personal contact to solicit members for its group or prepaid legal service plan, provided that the personal contact is not undertaken by any lawyer who would be a provider of legal services through the plan. The organization must not be owned by or directed (whether as manager or otherwise) by any lawyer or law firm that participates in the plan. For example, paragraph (d) would not permit a lawyer to create an organization controlled directly or indirectly by the lawyer and use the organization for the inperson or telephone solicitation of legal employment of the lawyer through memberships in the plan or otherwise. The communication permitted by these organizations also must not be directed to a person known to need legal services in a particular matter, but is to be designed to inform potential plan members generally of another means of affordable legal services. Lawyers who participate in a legal service plan must reasonably assure that the plan sponsors are in compliance with Rules 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3(b). See 8.4(a).

Reporter's Notes-2009 Amendment

V.R.P.C. 7.3 is amended to conform to the changes in the Model Rule. The ABA Reporter's Explanation is as follows:

TEXT:

1. Paragraph a : Extend prohibition to "real-time electronic contact"

The Commission, in accord with the ABA Commission on Responsibility in Client Development, is recommending that lawyer solicitation by real-time electronic communication (e.g., an Internet chat room) be prohibited. Differentiating between e-mail and real-time electronic communication, the Commission has concluded that the interactivity and immediacy of response in realtime electronic communication presents the same dangers as those involved in live telephone contact.

2. Paragraph (a)(1): Exempt contacts with lawyers

In agreement with a recommendation of the ABA Commission on Responsibility in Client Development, the Commission has concluded that lawyers do not need the special protection afforded by this Rule. Such an exemption would permit in-person contacts with inhouse lawyers of organizations but would not permit contact with nonlawyer representatives of such organizations.

3. Paragraph (a)(2): Exempt contacts with persons with "close personal relationship" to lawyer

The ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility permitted in-person contact with close personal friends. Approximately 10 states still do. Although the Commission recognizes the imprecision of the concept of a close personal relationship, it seems difficult to justify prohibiting a lawyer from calling a close friend and offering to represent the friend in a legal matter.

4. Paragraph (b): Add reference to "real-time electronic contact"

The prohibition against real-time electronic contact in paragraph (a) requires the addition of a reference to real-time electronic contact in paragraph (b).

5. Paragraph (c): Add reference to electronic contact and modify exception to conform to paragraph (a)

The reference to electronic contact is needed so a lawyer sending e-mail to a person known to need legal services will be required to identify the e-mail as an advertisement. The relocation and modification of the exception was necessary to conform paragraph (c) with the changes in paragraph (a).

COMMENT: [1], [2] and [3] The references to real-time electronic contact and electronic communications were added to conform the Comment to the proposed changes in the text of the Rule. [3] The second sentence of this Comment has been modified to reflect the deletion of [former] paragraph (b) from Rule 7.2. The change in the second to the last sentence corrects an error in the [former] Comment.

[4] The first sentence has been modified to indicate that the reference in the Rule text to a "prior professional relationship" denotes a former client-lawyer relationship. A sentence has been added to explain the inapplicability of paragraphs (a) and (c) to contacts with lawyers. The last sentence has been added to recognize the constitutional limitations on regulators attempting to prohibit lawyers from cooperating with nonprofit organizations assisting members or beneficiaries to secure legal counsel necessary for redress of grievances. See United Transportation Union v. State Bar, 401 U.S. 576 (1971).

[8] These changes are stylistic. No change in substance is intended.