The California Bar’s Chief Lawyer is warning victims of the San Bruno explosion about unethical lawyers, and about the best way to select an attorney. The full text of the warning letter is set forth below. The highlights:
- It is unethical and illegal for an attorney, or someone acting on the attorney’s behalf, to contact a victim in person or by phone for the purpose of offering services unless the victim has asked to be contacted. Victims should not deal with attorneys who contact them in this fashion. (Contact by letter, as long as the letter says “advertisement,” is allowed.)
- A victim should consult with several attorneys before selecting one to represent him or her. The victim should not feel rushed to complete the selection process. There is time.
- A victim should ask the attorney he is speaking to about the the attorney’s “experience and background to handle the particular matter.”
The last point is probably the most important. Some useful questions to ask the attorney:
- Have you ever represented clients against PG&E? How many times?
- Did the cases involve wrongful death or burn injuries?
- Did the cases involve explosions of underground utilities?
- What was the result of those lawsuits?
The least useful question to ask is for an attorney’s opinion of the value of the case. Unethical attorneys will often offer an inflated opinion in an attempt to win the client over.
I represented all the victims of the PG&E gas explosion in Santa Rosa except for one, who selected a different attorney. That attorney, though a charming person, simply didn’t have the experience necessary to handle the case, and ended up settling the young woman’s case for much less than was appropriate. The young woman later asked my firm to sue her former attorney for settling the case for less than was fair. We proved that the lawyer, in convincing the woman to settle for the amount she did, committed malpractice. But the attorney’s own insurance was not sufficient to fully compensate the woman for the harm he caused her. Needless to say, it would have been better had the young woman selected the right attorney at the outset.