Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Florida Supreme Court dismisses Florida Bar’s petition proposing substantial revisions to lawyer referral service rules

Back in 2015, the Florida Supreme Court rejected amendments to state regulations on referral services and directed the State Bar to instead draft amendments that would “preclude Florida lawyers from accepting referrals from any lawyer referral service that is not owned or operated by a member of the Bar.”  See, In re Amend. to Rule Reg. The Fla. Bar 4-7.22—Lawyer Referral Services, 175 So. 3d 779, 781 (Fla. 2015).

The State Bar went back to work and adopted a new proposal in 2016, but this new proposal was recently rejected again by the Supreme Court because it still allowed attorneys to accept referrals from entities owned and operated by non-lawyers. 

What is interesting about this story is that the new proposal was adopted to make it easy for entities like LegalZoom, RocketLawyer and Avvo to participate in the state’s legal market.  To this end, under the new proposed amendments any private entities that connect consumers looking for legal services with lawyers would have been called “qualifying providers” regardless of whether they were “traditional” referral services or a technology-based “lead generator” (like Avvo, RocketLawyer or LegalZoom).

The Court however, rejected the proposal stating that the proposed amendments “do not comply with the Court’s direction concerning lawyer referral services that are not owned or operated by a member of the Bar” and it objected that the proposed amendments “seek to expand the scope of the rule to include “matching services” and other similar services not currently regulated by the Bar.”  This last reference, obviously, is directed at services like RocketLawyer, Avvo and LegalZoom.

Having said all that, however, the debate is not over.  The Court again sent the issue back to the State Bar stating that “the Bar’s petition in this case is . . . dismissed without prejudice to allow the members of this Court to engage in informed discussions with the Bar and those who are in favor or against the proposed regulation of matching and other similar services. The Court lacks sufficient background information on such services and their regulation at this time.”

In other words, it is still possible that the Court will adopt the proposed amendments; it just won’t do it at this time.

The Court’s order is officially called In Re: Amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar-Subchapter 4-7 and you can read it here.

Thanks to Lawyer Ethics Alerts Blog for the update.

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