It’s not surprising that salespeople who actively seek out and exploit their referrals earn four to five times more than those who don’t. This is common practice in sales, and is often admired. In other industries, however, such tactics are usually seen as unsavory.
Lawyers, for example, are often judged based on the number of cases they handle, and high profile cases make for better paychecks. But actively seeking out clients, especially following a tragedy, can turn many off.
In Chattanooga, Tennessee, lawyers are exploiting the victims of the Woodmore school bus tragedy, which killed six children on Nov. 21.
Attorneys took no time to allow parents to grieve, either. Just four days after the accident, Misti Nash went to an area funeral home to start arrangements for her nine-year-old daughter Zoie. She picked out a pink and purple casket with Zoie’s face on the top.
When she arrived with her family members, however, she met Alphonso McClendon, who claimed to be a lawyer with Witherspoon Law Group in Dallas. McClendon said that his firm could cover the funeral costs and help all victims’ families receive $3 million within five months in a joint lawsuit.
But McClendon wasn’t even a lawyer. He’d been hired to seek the victims’ families out and solicit their services.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III made his stance clear on the issue in a statement on Dec. 20.
“It is sad that some attorneys attempt to exploit the grief of others and put profit above sincere assistance,” Slatery said. “This deceptive behavior is not representative of our state’s legal community and no credible attorney would act this way. Our office will pursue anyone attempting to take advantage of the families in Chattanooga.”
The Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct requires all attorneys to wait at least 30 days before they are permitted to contact families or victims for litigation purposes following an accident. Word of mouth referrals are not banned; however, questionable tactics, like those used by Witherspoon Law Group via Alphonso McClendon, can result in the suspension of law licenses if the referral is traced back to the law firm.
This is not the first time that Witherspoon Law Group has contacted families of those killed in auto accidents, either.
Following the death of her 26-year-old son, Kimberly Craft of California boarded a plane to Chicago to make arrangements for his funeral.
Upon arrival at the Heavenly Angels Funeral Home, the funeral director gave her the number of none other than Alphonso McClendon.
“I was in tears when the [funeral] director came up and said, ‘Well, I have a number for these people and they handle wrongful death claims,'” said Craft.
She said that she was relieved, but the stress later reemerged after McClendon assigned her to a different attorney, who rarely followed up with case developments or answered phone calls.
Craft never filed an unlawful death lawsuit with Witherspoon, and other attorneys could not take her case since she was technically represented by the firm.
“We will use the full authority of this office to shut down this type of activity,” Slatery told his community. Anyone who is approached by a salesman-like person soliciting representation for a law firm should contact the Consumer Division of the Attorney General’s Office.