Is it legal (or allowed by bar rules) for a lawyer/law firm to use public records (such as arrest records) to find and reach out to potential clients? This question comes from a question on another site about public arrest records and an answer suggested it was so lawyers could reach out to potential clients. The answer is making a claim that there would be a difference depending on how they reach out to the potential client such a via mail or talking to them in person.

As a side note would the answer change if they did not use public records?

2 Answers 2


There is considerable variation between U.S. states and this portion of the Rules of Professional Conduct in each U.S. jurisdiction varies considerably.

Some states have abolished these ethical limits on solicitation of clients entirely, some states have strict restrictions, and others are in between.

All U.S. jurisdictions, however, use the same numbering system for their ethical rules for lawyers (although some regulate this by statute rather than ethical rule) and the primary relevant ethics rule for this subject matter for U.S. lawyers is Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3 in jurisdictions that still have a Rule 7.3.

The modern trend has been to deregulate lawyer advertising and solicitation of clients, mostly out of concerns about First Amendment limitations on these regulations and out of anti-trust concerns associated with prior regulations.

The Colorado version, which is an "in between" state provides as of October 2020 (after five previous significant amendments since 1997). It would allow mailed or emailed solicitations based upon arrest records, but not "live person-to-person" contact to do so. It says:

Rule 7.3. Solicitation of Clients As amended through Rule Change 2020(29), effective October 2020.

(a) “Solicitation” or “solicit” denotes a communication initiated by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm that is directed to a specific person the lawyer knows or reasonably should know needs legal services in a particular matter and that offers to provide, or reasonably can be understood as offering to provide, legal services for that matter.

(b) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment by live person-to-person contact when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s or law firm’s pecuniary gain, unless the contact is with a:

(1) lawyer;

(2) person who has a family, close personal, or prior business or professional relationship with the lawyer or law firm; or

(3) person who routinely uses for business purposes the type of legal services offered by the lawyer.

(c) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (b), if:

(1) the target of the solicitation has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer; or

(2) the solicitation involves coercion, duress or harassment.

(d) A lawyer shall not engage in solicitation by any media for professional employment, concerning personal injury or wrongful death of any person. See § 13-93-111, C.R.S. This Rule 7.3(d) shall not apply if the lawyer has a family or prior business or professional relationship with the person or if the communication is issued more than 30 days after the occurrence of the event for which the legal representation is being solicited. Any such communication must comply with the following:

(1) no such communication may be made if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the person to whom the communication is directed is represented by a lawyer in the matter; and

(2) if a lawyer other than the lawyer whose name or signature is contained in the communication will actually handle the case or matter, or if the case or matter will be referred to another lawyer or law firm, any such communication shall include a statement so advising the prospective client.

(e) This Rule does not prohibit communications authorized by law or ordered by a court or other tribunal.

(f) Every communication from a lawyer soliciting professional employment shall:

(1) 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 (b)(1), (b)(2) or (b)(3);

(2) not reveal on the envelope or on the outside of a self-mailing brochure or pamphlet the nature of the person’s legal problem; and

(3) be maintained for a period of five years from the date of dissemination of the communication, and include a copy or recording of each such communication and a sample of the envelope, if any, in which the communication is enclosed, unless the recipient of the communication is a person specified in paragraphs (b)(1), (b)(2) or (b)(3).

(g) Notwithstanding the prohibitions in this Rule, a lawyer may participate with a prepaid or group legal service plan operated by an organization not owned or directed by the lawyer that uses live person-to-person contact to enroll members or sell subscriptions for the plan from persons who are not known to need legal services in a particular matter covered by the plan.


1 Paragraph (b) prohibits a lawyer from soliciting professional employment by live person-toperson contact when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s or the law firm’s pecuniary gain. A lawyer’s communication is not a solicitation if it is directed to the general public, such as through a billboard, an Internet banner advertisement, a website or a television commercial, or if it is in response to a request for information or is automatically generated in response to electronic searches.

[2] “Live person-to-person contact” means in-person, face-to-face, live telephone and other real-time visual or auditory person-to-person communications where the person is subject to a direct personal encounter without time for reflection. Such person-to-person contact does not include chat rooms, text messages or other written communications that recipients may easily disregard. A potential for overreaching exists when a lawyer, seeking pecuniary gain, solicits a person known to be in need of legal services. This form of contact subjects a person to the private importuning of the trained advocate in a direct interpersonal encounter. The person, who may already feel overwhelmed by the circumstances giving rise to the need for legal services, may find it difficult to fully evaluate all available alternatives with reasoned judgment and appropriate self-interest in the face of the lawyer’s presence and insistence upon an immediate response. The situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and overreaching.

[3] The potential for overreaching inherent in live person-to-person contact justifies its prohibition, since lawyers have alternative means of conveying necessary information. In particular, communications can be mailed or transmitted by email or other electronic means that do not violate other laws. These forms of communications make it possible for the public to be informed about the need for legal services, and about the qualifications of available lawyers and law firms, without subjecting the public to live person-to-person persuasion that may overwhelm a person’s judgment.

[4] The contents of live person-to-person contact can be disputed and may not be subject to third-party 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.

[5] There is far less likelihood that a lawyer would engage in overreaching against a former client, or a person with whom the lawyer has a close personal, family, business or professional 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 overreaching when the person contacted is a lawyer or is known to routinely use the type of legal services involved for business purposes. Examples include persons who routinely hire outside counsel to represent the entity; entrepreneurs who regularly engage business, employment law or intellectual property lawyers; small business proprietors who routinely hire lawyers for lease or contract issues; and other people who routinely retain lawyers for business transactions or formations. Paragraph (b) 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 their members or beneficiaries.

[6] A solicitation that contains false or misleading information within the meaning of Rule 7.1, that involves coercion, duress or harassment within the meaning of Rule 7.3(c)(2), or that involves contact with someone who has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer within the meaning of Rule 7.3(c)(1) is prohibited. Live, person-to-person contact of individuals who may be especially vulnerable to coercion or duress is ordinarily not appropriate, for example, the elderly, those whose first language is not English, or the disabled.

[7] This Rule does not 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 people who are seeking legal services for themselves. 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.

[8] Communications authorized by law or ordered by a court or tribunal include a notice to potential members of a class in class action litigation.

[9] Paragraph (g) of this Rule permits a lawyer to participate with an organization which uses personal contact to enroll 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 (g) would not permit a lawyer to create an organization controlled directly or indirectly by the lawyer and use the organization for the person-to-person solicitation of legal employment of the lawyer through memberships in the plan or otherwise. The communication permitted by these organizations must not be directed to a person known to need legal services in a particular matter, but must 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(c).

  • 2
    It does make sense considering how much difference I have seen in legal advertising as I travel around the country on trips. Some parts of the country you can't turn around without seeing an ad for some type of lawsuit advertising how much they have won for past clients.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 19:40
  • @JoeW There's a difference between aggressive advertising (like "I am the Insurance Hammer!") and Ambulance Chasing - the latter is banned.
    – Trish
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 19:53
  • @Trish I understand that but what I am talking about is when traveling a billboard will change from advertising for a personal injury lawyer to also including that they won X amount of dollars for someone based on which state you are in. (of course with all the disclaimers that not all cases are the same)
    – Joe W
    Commented Jun 13, 2022 at 20:05


This type of approach is a breach of the Solicitors Regulation Authority's (SRA) Code of Conduct for solicitors, Registered European Lawyers, and Registered Foreign Lawyers

Paragraph 8.9 of the Code states that:

You do not make unsolicited approaches to members of the public, with the exception of current or former clients, in order to advertise legal services provided by you, or your business or employer.

This requirement is clarified by SRA Guidance that says:

...advertising to the public is permitted, subject to certain conditions...


Specifically, you are allowed to advertise your services to the public so long as this is done in a non-intrusive and non-targeted way.

This means, for example, that you may place an advert on the radio or TV, on billboards, in a local newspaper, online or on a social media platform. 

  • However, this advertising is limited...

Paragraphs 8.9 and 7.1(c)1 of the Standards and Regulations prohibit unsolicited approaches to members of the public which, even if permitted by law, may feel unwelcome or intrusive.


This means you cannot make direct or specifically targeted "approaches" to members of the public in person, by phone or via other means which target them individually. (My emphasis)

This guidance goes on to give an example of prohibited advertising of the sort suggested by the OP:

Firm A identifies from online media a list of people who have recently been involved in a major road traffic accident. The firm sends them a letter saying that it can help claim compensation.

We [i.e. the SRA] would consider this a breach of our standards as it involves a targeted approach to specific members of the public which may feel intrusive to those who receive it due to the particular circumstances that they find themselves in.

1Paragraph 7.1 (c) of the Code of Conduct for Firms applies the same standard to firms.

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