As long time readers of this blog know, I have been following the developments related to Avvo Legal Services for a while. You can read all my comments by going here and scrolling down.
Not too long ago, I commented on the fact that ethics committees in Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Jersey and New York had issued opinions holding that it would be unethical to participate in Avvo Legal Services.
Now comes news that about three weeks ago the Utah State Bar Association issued a similar opinion. Although it does not mention Avvo by name, it concludes that participating in a program whose description is just like Avvo Legal Services would violate Utah’s Professional Conduct Rule 5.4 which bans splitting fees with a non-lawyer and Rule 7.2 which regulates restrictions on payment for recommending a lawyer’s services.
In addition, it finds that the fee paid by the lawyer does not appear to be a fee for the reasonable costs of advertising and discusses how participating in the service may violate a number of other rules related to client confidentiality, lawyer independence, and safekeeping of client property. Finally, the opinion states that participating in the program raises serious concerns about a lawyer’s ability to comply with Rule 1.15 since “[i]t is difficult to see how a lawyer can protect client funds “with the care required of a professional fiduciary” when trust fund account information is provided to a third party over which the lawyer has no control.”
As I have stated before, given the current regulatory structure, I am not surprised. You can read the full opinion here.