Ollie the Cabdrivertising Criminal Attorney

There’s a criminal attorney in Houston (I’ll call him “Ollie”) who is a really busy guy. Ollie reportedly has a cab driver who waits outside the jail in the wee hours of the morning when people are released on bond and refers them to Ollie for representation. Ollie charges a nominal fee ($500 or so to start); he will even fill out the clients’ retainer checks for them.

How do I know this? Because in the last couple of weeks I’ve been retained by no fewer than three of Ollie’s clients. I’m sure there will be many more; I’ve thought about carrying a throwdown “motion to substitute counsel in place of Ollie” in my briefcase so that I can just fill in a couple of blanks to replace Ollie on a case.

Is there something wrong with a cab driver referring clients to a lawyer, or a lawyer using a cab driver to do so? I refer you to Section 38.12 of the Texas Penal Code for the Texas law on the subject, and to Underdog Blog’s Jon Katz for an opinion on the constitutionality of that law. But legal or not, cabdrivertising is ugly.

The lawyer who has a cabdriver outside the jail “bird-dogging” clients (as one of the clients put it) is catching people at their most vulnerable: shaken-up and often disoriented from the experience of having been tossed in jail, processed, and released on bond. Often they are still under the influence of whatever drug landed them in jail in the first place. Even if it weren’t illegal, personal solicitation of clients in this condition is abhorrent.

Ollie isn’t the only lawyer preying on the vulnerability of the accused. Lots of attorneys don’t scruple to make potential clients think that hiring a lawyer is more urgent than it really is.

Consider DWI attorneys who tell potential clients that they must hire counsel within 15 days to request an administrative license revocation (ALR) hearing, when in fact the instructions for requesting a live hearing are right there on the DIC-25 form that DWI arrestees generally receive, and are simple enough that anyone who can read and write English and operate a fax machine can request his own ALR hearing.

A conscientious lawyer would advise a potential DWI client that much of the urgency of hiring a lawyer could be alleviated by the client requesting a live ALR hearing, because people make better decisions when they’re not under the strain of having to make a decision right now.

It’s not only DWI lawyers who put the screws to the accused, though. In Harris County’s criminal courts, nothing bad is going to happen to an accused who turns up for his first court appearance without a lawyer — the court is going to give him a new court date, marking the reset form “THA” for “To Hire Attorney”. Yet more than once I’ve had to soothe a potential client’s panic because some other Houston criminal attorney has painted a vivid picture of dire consequences for not hiring that lawyer right away.

The truth is that, once you’ve gotten yourself bailed out of jail, there’s no reason for there to be any more emergencies in your criminal case in Harris County unless you create emergencies for yourself. Get to court on time, quit using drugs, and don’t break the law. That’ll most likely keep you out of jail. Start gathering your money together for legal fees, and take your time finding the right lawyer for your case. Better to wait and hire the right lawyer than to hire the wrong lawyer first.

I think Ollie’s clients would tend to agree.

0 responses to “Ollie the Cabdrivertising Criminal Attorney”

  1. When I was a prosecutor, I had a case was that was continued seven (!) times because the guy was trying to get the money together to hire a private attorney. And I never saw a single case where a person asked for time to hire a private attorney and was denied the continuance.

  2. On the 15 day deadline- I can not tell you how many times a client has called 3-4 weeks after a DWI arrest. If only the DIC forms contained the same language “YOU MUST CALL WITHIN 15 DAYS” that so many DWI phone books ads contain.

    The ALR hearing is easy enough for anyone to request. However, many don’t know to request it.

    A larger topic- Free markets and legal services. Would consumers be helped if there was less regulation of legal services and/or advertising?

  3. This is a mildly frustrating example, because every industry has an element like this that is viewed negatively inside and outside that industry. However, to an earlier comment, if the state and/or city are prosecuting an individual, they have a great deal of resources. If someone has been charged with DUI, domestic violence or some other charge, they may not know who to turn to, and the DA’s office surely isn’t going to assist them in their efforts. It is necessary to provide citizens with means to contact attorneys who can help them know their rights and find out if jail/fines/probation are necessary or just scare tactics.

  4. We get complaints of this type quite often. Sadly, barratry is pretty tough to prosecute.

    Mark, take a look at P.C. 38.12(a)(2). Is that unbelievably broad, or what? It’s almost like the legislature was THINKING lawyers, but didn’t bother to put the language in. To me, it appears to criminalize ANY solicitation of employment. So, as it’s written, does that mean that when someone rings your doorbell and asks if you need your lawn mowed, they’re committing a third degree felony?? Or calls you and asks if you need your carpets cleaned?

    I mean, seriously, where does that statute end? I see no limiting language or definitions whatsoever. Am I wrong about this? It seems unconstitutionally broad to me. (Did I really just type that?) Yeah, I did.

  5. Don’t break your collective arms patting yourselves on the back because you think you hold some sort of moral or ethical high ground.

    I’d recommend taking that horse to the Kentucky Derby but I don’t think it would fit in the chute.

  6. The sad thing is that “Ollie” is a bigger joke inside of the courtoom than the cab driver is in front of the jail. Quite frankly, the Defendant who just got out of jail would probably be better represented by his cabbie than Ollie.

    And you bet your butt that the cab driver probably cares more about his client than Ollie does.

  7. Mr. Bennett,

    I am back in action after a 5 month hiatus. Somehow my account was deleted and once that happened I just never got around to getting back to setting it up. I see that even your activity is down some. I was hoping you could post a small note for the core group of individuals that were blogging so that I could add them to my blog roll.


  8. Here I go again commenting on my good friend Mark Bennett who went too far. I should give him more praise as I good lawyer. My concern is not about his criticism of Lloyd. If this is true Lloyd deserves the criticism. However. just as the attorney commented 4 years ago when this post was done, many DWI clients simply do not read or forget because, to remind you of your own words Mark by paraphrasing, ‘they leave the jail drunk’ and probably disregard the form. They were drunk when they were given and probably just thought it is something they’ll deal with later and then forget to deal with it later. You are way over the top with your criticism of DWI attorneys or any attorney who simply tries to inform people of what they need to do. Frankly their comments are a public service. They are not telling someone something that is not true like you’re going to jail if you don’t call me. I hope you have gotten off your high horse on this one Mark. Frankly you need to do a better job of holding up your colleagues. I will be voting for you November and still hold you in high regard. Just check yourself next time before you make an unfounded attack on a colleague.

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