Monday, August 1, 2016

Florida adopts amendments to rules that may make it improper for lawyers to participate in Avvo Legal Services and other similar "matching" sites

Original post (July 11, 2016); Update below:

I recently posted a note on a recent opinion in Ohio which essentially concludes it is unethical for lawyers to participate in services like Avvo's Legal Services.  (I happen to think that, as presently constituted, participating in Avvo Legal Services is unethical pretty much anywhere (see here, here and here), but not everyone agrees with me.)

Now comes news that the Florida Bar is considering certain amendments to its rules on referral services, which, depending on how they are interpreted, may also make it unethical to participate in Avvo's services.

Avvo Legal Services can argue it should not be considered a referral service, but the proposed Florida rule is apparently designed to defeat that argument by eliminating the distinction between referral services and "lead generators" - which is what Avvo is.  The new Florida rule holds that any private entities that connect consumers looking for legal services with lawyers are to be called “qualifying providers” regardless of whether they are a “traditional” referral service or a technology-based provider (AVVO, LegalZoom).

Once all the different services are in the same category, whether they are lead generators or referral services does not make a difference.  And the other important change to the rule is that it says that a lawyer can participate in private, for profit service only if the lawyer receives no fee or charge that is a division or sharing of fees unless the provider is The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service or a referral service approved by the Florida Bar.

As I have discussed elsewhere, Avvo disputes that its payment structure constitutes fee sharing, but I think the argument can easily be made that it is.  In such a case, therefore, unless the Florida Bar has "approved" Avvo as a referral service in Florida - which I doubt - than Florida lawyers would be violating the rules by participating in Avvo's Legal Services.

You can find the redline version of the proposed rule and its comment here.   Lawyers Ethics Alert Blog has more information here.

UPDATE (8/1/16):   The Board of Governors met on Friday, July 29, 2016 in Miami Beach and approved the proposed revisions.  Lawyer Ethics Alert Blog has more details here.

No comments:

Post a Comment