Monday, April 23, 2012

Can lawyers participate in website that provides answers to legal questions to customers for a fee?

The South Carolina Bar’s Ethics Advisory Committee has issued an opinion (available here) in which it addresses the question of whether it is proper for an attorney to participate in a website which offers answers to questions for a fee. 

As described in the opinion, the website

"allows members of the public to post questions concerning a number of different topics for a fee. . . . .Members of the public may ask questions that will be answered by lawyers, doctors, nurses, mechanics, and other professionals. Members of the public pay the website a fee to be able to ask questions. In turn, the professional, here a lawyer, would receive the questions from the member of the public and would answer the question. After the question is answered, the lawyer is paid a fee from the website for answering the question for the member of the public. Members of the public could be from and ask a question concerning any state or other jurisdiction and are not limited to South Carolina."
Based on these particular circumstances, the Committee concluded that lawyes are not allowed to participate in the website's services.  The Committee concluded that a lawyer’s participation under these circumstances would be improper but also that "[a]s to legal information websites in general, if a website complies with all communications and advertising rules, [a] Lawyer could participate in such a program but with specific caution against inadvertently forming an attorney-client relationship by offering more than basic information of general applicability. Where legal advice is provided, it is improper for Lawyer to accept compensation from the website provider without complying with Rule 1.8(f)."

The Ethical Quandary and the Legal Ethics Forum have more on the story.

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