Ex-sheriff seeks to criminalize the practice of trolling for divorce clients

Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “Can any attorney help me with my family law needs in North Carolina?”


If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident… If you live in the United States, you have heard that phrase a few trillion times. But really, if you have been injured in an accident, you are likely to receive a mailer from a lawyer—or two, or five hundred.

Fortitude and Impatience Mecklenburg Divorce Attorney North Carolina Family Law LawyerWhat about if you seek a domestic violence protective order and file for divorce? If you are in Michigan, you might receive a mailer from a family-law attorney who is eager to help you. Or not, if a former-sheriff state legislator has his way.

The legislator, Sen. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, Michigan, is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit lawyers in that state from reaching out to potential divorce clients to offer their legal services until two weeks after the named defendant in a divorce filing has been served with divorce papers and proof of that service has been filed.

Of course, the ex-sheriff put some teeth in his bill. A first-time violation of the rule would be a misdemeanor and subject the violator to a $1,000 fine. Repeat offenders would face up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine, or both.

Jones, who served as sheriff of Eaton County in Michigan, said he saw firsthand the impact of domestic violence on the lives of women and children. The last thing those emotion-filled situations needed, he said, was “the insertion of a lawyer trolling for clients.”

Jones’ bill passed the Michigan Senate and has moved to the state House of Representatives for approval.

Attorney advertising has long been a source of consternation for some in the legal field. Many people—and many lawyers—still hold onto that ideal of the country lawyer who hangs up a shingle on a dusty downtown street, sits down behind a mahogany desk, awaits the inevitable crush of clients who stumble in—legal problems in hand—off the street. Remember Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird? That lawyer.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way, and it hasn’t since the age of the Yellow Pages, and even that age is long gone.

The bottom line is that mailing letters or brochures to potential clients offering legal services is a perfectly legitimate and legal enterprise. The practice has been sanctioned by state bars in most, if not all, states. A state bar, by the way, is a state agency that oversees the conduct of attorneys. State bars typically have the authority to license attorneys and discipline them, where necessary.

While sending mailers to potential clients is sanctioned, it is heavily regulated. Only certain kinds of potential clients can be sent mailers, and only in certain circumstances. The content—what attorneys can and cannot say, along with what they must say—is also heavily regulated.

Some states, like Kentucky, have sought to ban the practice entirely. In fact, in 1988, a lawyer who wanted to send out mailers to people facing foreclosure took his case against the Kentucky Bar Association all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In that case, Shapero v. Kentucky Bar Association, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot categorically prohibit attorneys from soliciting business from potential clients known to be facing particular legal problems. Attorneys enjoy the right to freedom of speech too!

Tell that to sheriff Jones.

If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter, then you need the help of experienced family law attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina who can help guide you through the often confusing process of divorce. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.



About the Author

ARNOLD&SMITH_243 3.jpgMatthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.







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