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Not very long after my last post, I received the following mass-email message from the Alabama State Bar:

Gulf Coast Oil Spill & Solicitation

The officers of the [Alabama] State Bar thought it necessary to alert all members to steps we have already taken to alert the public concerning the ASB’s public protection initiative as it relates to the BP oil spill. There have been published reports that a number of in-state and out-of-state law firms have been soliciting clients in direct violation of the [Alabama]Rules of Professional Conduct.

Consequently, the ASB has prepared a news release alerting Gulf Coast residents to be alert for such activity and to report instances of unethical conduct to the Office of General Counsel. We have also prepared some common sense information (How to Protect Your Rights When Mass Disaster Strikes) for the public explaining that in order to make an informed decision on the selection of legal counsel persons should not be pressured into doing so nor should anyone sign any document without first obtaining a lawyer’s advice.

We have also worked cooperatively with the Mobile and Baldwin county bar associations to ensure that anyone requiring the assistance of lawyer can locate one via the Mobile Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service or the ASB LRS. We have even noted that Baldwin County residents can locate a lawyer via the ASB LRS.

Keith Norman

If you can’t open the link, above, here’s the content it directs you to:

How to Protect Your Rights When Mass Disaster Strikes

If you are reading this guide because you or a loved one has just been the victim of a catastrophic event, please accept our deepest sympathies. We understand that this is a time filled with uncertainty, confusion and emotional distress. Our only motive in providing this information is to assist in protecting your legal rights and in avoiding unnecessary anxiety.

Despite the emotions that you are now feeling, this is also a time in which you may have to make some informed decisions having serious implications for the future. One of those decisions is whether to hire a lawyer to pursue a lawsuit against those who may be responsible for the disaster. If you do decide to hire a lawyer then you should select a qualified lawyer who will best suit your needs before making any actions that might jeopardize your rights. This brochure is offered to assist in the decision making process.

It is impossible to provide comprehensive advice that will apply to all situations. This guide is intended to assist in preserving your legal rights until you decide how you will pursue them in this situation.

Who to talk to.

Lawyers can provide meaningful assistance to you for problems arising out of mass disasters. However, the decision whether to hire a lawyer and who that lawyer should be, is yours and yours alone.

The Alabama State Bar (ASB) offers the following information to you in this time of emotional distress.

You are not required to speak with anyone.

Police, fire and other emergency personnel are there to help. You should feel free to speak with them. Other people may not be there to help you. They may be there to assist insurance companies of those responsible for the disaster. If you do not know who someone is and why they want to speak with you, do not say anything. Get help from someone you know and trust, or emergency personnel.

Lawyers are available to help you.

Members of the ASB Lawyer Referral Service are able to answer your legal questions and help you find a lawyer, if you decide to hire one. There is no fee and no obligation is created by your talking with them. Lawyer Referral Services are designed to assist persons who are able to pay normal attorney fees but whose ability to locate appropriate legal representation is frustrated by a lack of experience with the legal system, a lack of information about the type of service needed, or a fear of the potential costs of seeing a lawyer.

Lawyer referral programs offer two important services to the public. First, they help the client determine if the problem is truly of a legal nature by screening inquiries and referring the client to other service agencies when appropriate. The second, and perhaps more important, function of a lawyer referral service is to provide the client with an unbiased referral to an attorney who has experience in the area of law appropriate to the client’s needs. The public has come to equate the function of lawyer referral programs with consumer-oriented assistance, and expects that the loyalty of the program will lie with the consumer, and only secondarily with the participating attorney.

The ASB toll-free Lawyer Referral Service number is: (800) 392-5660.
The Mobile Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service number is: (251 )433-1032

*Baldwin County residents maybe referred to a Baldwin County lawyer by calling the ASB number.

Lawyers and insurance company representatives may contact you.

Lawyers seeking to represent you may try to contact you. They are not permitted to do so unless you want them to. In other words, you call them, they can’t call you. Unless you call or write to them first, lawyers and their helpers, sometimes called "runners" are not allowed to approach you in person or by telephone.

However, except in the case of air disasters, where the law prohibits lawyers from contacting you by mail for 45 days, they are permitted to write to you. If you think that a lawyer or runner has approached you improperly, you may report the contact to athe Alabama State Bar at (334) 269-1515.

Lawyers or representatives of an insurance company or a potentially responsible party may also contact you. It may not be wise to be open with a lawyer or insurance company representative you have never met, whose advice you have not sought and whose interests or client’s interests may be different from yours.

When to consult or hire a lawyer.

You do not need to hire an attorney immediately.

If you know you want to make a legal claim based on what has occurred, you may want to hire a lawyer soon. But that is an important decision, and as with any other important decision, you should make it when your mind is clear and you have the information you need to make a sound decision. We recommend you speak with a lawyer within 60 days of the disaster if you are considering making a legal claim. That is because some deadlines for filing can come up in as short as 90 days.

It may also be beneficial to hire a lawyer soon, so that he or she can properly investigate the circumstances surrounding the disaster, preserve evidence before it disappears and locate witnesses before their memory of the event fades.

In some circumstances, such as commercial air crashes, government agencies conduct the investigation.

Do not sign anything that affects your legal rights without consulting a lawyer first.

You may be offered a financial settlement and asked to sign documents that give up your right to make a legal claim or other valuable rights. You should not sign a document or accept an offer without consulting with a lawyer first.

Choosing a Lawyer.

If you hire a lawyer, you will want one you trust. It is important that you have the utmost confidence in your lawyer. You will want one you feel comfortable with, since you may work closely over a long period of time. You may want to interview several lawyers before hiring one. Many lawyers will consult with you without charge.

To find the right lawyer, you may wish to speak with your family lawyer if you have one. You can also ask friends, relatives, or members of the clergy for a recommendation or you can call the Mobile Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (251) 433-1032 or ASB Lawyer Referral Service at (800) 392-5660 for the names of lawyers who can assist you.

Paying for a lawyer.

Most lawyers in cases involving personal injury or death charge a "contingent fee." That means that they will be paid a percentage of any settlement or recovery you receive.

Final thoughts.

You have just faced a disaster and you may need representation. The decision whether to hire a lawyer and who to hire should be made calmly and intelligently. We urge you to use the same care you would with any other important decision in your life.

Please do not let outside sources pressure or confuse you into making hasty choices at this difficult time.

The material contained in this pamphlet provides general information and is intended to inform, not to advise. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities. This pamphlet is published by the Alabama State Bar as a public service.

The ASB toll-free Lawyer Referral Service number is: (800) 392-5660.
The Mobile Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service number is: (251 )433-1032

*Baldwin County residents maybe referred to a Baldwin County lawyer by calling the ASB number.

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