On Monday, August 21, 2023, Honolulu Civil Beat reported that Hawaii residents affected by the recent fires now face a new challenge: the influx of out-of-state lawyers vying for their business. Reports reveal that attorneys not licensed in Hawaii have aimed radio and social media campaigns that are actively targeting Maui fire survivors, prompting legal authorities to issue a stark warning.
The Hawaii Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel has received at least 12 complaints about attorneys who are not licensed in Hawaii soliciting survivors of the Maui fires as clients, according to Chief Disciplinary Counsel Bradley Tamm.
Tamm has disclosed that these complaints focus on lawyers from other states aggressively soliciting fire survivors as potential clients. The lack of accountability for out-of-state attorneys raises serious red flags, as they operate outside the regulated framework of local counsel.
Tamm explained that one of the most distressing consequences of hiring out-of-state lawyers is the potential invalidation of contracts. Clients who enter into agreements with non-licensed Hawaii attorneys may find themselves without legal protection. Furthermore, the Hawaii Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, designed to reimburse clients affected by lawyer misconduct, can only assist if the attorney is licensed in Hawaii. This leaves fire survivors vulnerable to financial loss and potential exploitation.
The Hawaii State Bar Association stresses the significance of working with licensed Hawaii attorneys who are familiar with the state’s laws, regulations, and legal landscape. Local representation ensures clients receive advice and guidance from professionals who understand the unique intricacies of Hawaii’s legal system. Hawaii-licensed lawyers are subject to the jurisdiction and disciplinary measures of the Hawaii State Bar Association, providing an additional layer of protection for clients.
The wildfire aftermath has attracted a swarm of out-of-state lawyers, particularly from California, Texas, Florida, Washington, and Oregon.
“It’s a feeding frenzy,” remarked Tamm, emphasizing the current state of affairs. “There are sharks both in the water and on the land,” he added.
Ryan Little, a San Diego ethics lawyer who previously worked for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel shared that these attorneys employ aggressive tactics, promising quick results and potential compensation, often pressuring vulnerable survivors. Unscrupulous practices emerge when lawyers demand unorthodox forms of payment or stakes in clients’ properties. Such practices are clear warning signs of potential fraud and exploitation.
“Don’t trust anyone who’s giving you that gut feeling that you need to run away,” Little advised. “There’s gonna be a lot of people who are vulnerable and desperate, and that makes them vulnerable to that sort of fraud,” Little added.
Source: Honolulu Civil Beat