The bar, based in San Francisco, is the regulatory agency for California’s 226,000 lawyers. It issued a “disaster notice” with several tips for people affected by the fire.
First, the bar noted, disaster victims, like all California residents, have an absolute right either to act as their own lawyers or to have an attorney represent them in legal matters.
Second, the bar said, state laws and rules prohibit lawyers from acting in unscrupulous ways to garner clients in emergency situations.
Lawyers and people working on behalf of lawyers are prohibited from:
Soliciting clients at an accident scene, at a hospital or on the way to a hospital.
Seeking clients who are unable to exercise reasonable judgment because of their physical, emotional or mental state.
Seeking employment by mail unless the letter and envelope are clearly labeled as an advertisement.
Anyone who believes he or she has been improperly solicited by a lawyer is urged to report the matter to the bar at its attorney complaint hotline at (800) 843-9053.
State Bar Chief Trial Counsel James Towery added that victims of the accident should be cautious about agreeing to settlements of any claims they might have.
“The victims of the San Bruno explosion and fire and their family members should be very cautious about agreeing to ‘quick settlements’ offered by representatives of agencies involved in the accident or by insurance companies or representatives,” Towery said in a letter to the public today.
The letter continued, “It is important to take time to recover from the shock and immediate aftermath of the accident and to act with careful thought and the exercise of sound judgment.”
Towery also suggested that injured people or their families might want to consult with several attorneys before choosing one with whom they feel comfortable and who will represent their interests adequately.
“It is important that the attorney and client have the same goals and that the client is comfortable with the lawyer’s working style.
“A prospective client should not rush this process,” Towery said.
The bar’s disaster notice also advises people who need lawyers to consult the “Attorney” listings in telephone book yellow pages or the State Bar’s website at http://www.calbar.ca.gov/.
The main page of the website has a link titled “Find Legal Help,” which will lead to listings of certified lawyer referral services in each county.
The link also leads to a program called “Attorney Search,” which shows the education credentials, contact information and bar disciplinary status of each lawyer.