Florida Bar’s Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services issues final report recommending enhanced regulation of lawyers who receive referrals from for-profit referral services

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent recommendation of the Florida Bar’s Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services.  The Special Committee’s report is available on the Florida Bar’s website: http://www.floridabar.org.

The final report was released on July 26, 2012 and will be presented to The Florida Bar Board of Governors today; however, since this will be the first time that the report has been presented to the BOG, it is unlikely that it will act on the report at that time.  The Bar rules also state that “no action, report, or recommendation of any committee shall be binding upon The Florida Bar unless adopted and approved by the board of governors.”

According to the final report, “(t)he findings and conclusions of the special committee…compel the need for the implementation of changes to the Florida Supreme Court’s Rules Regulating The Florida Bar as they relate to lawyer referral services.  While recognizing that The Florida Bar presently does not directly regulate non-lawyer owned services, the committee determined that greater regulation of attorneys who participate in for-profit referral services is mandated as in the best interest of the public. During the course of the special committee’s deliberations, a variety of recommendations were considered, all of which addressed lawyer conduct while participating in for-profit referral services.”

The special committee made the following recommendations:

1.         A lawyer shall not accept client referrals from any person, entity or service that also refers or attempts to refer clients to any other type of professional service for the same incident, transaction or circumstance, and shall furthermore be prohibited from referring a client to any other professional service in consideration of the lawyer’s receipt of referrals from any lawyer referral service.  In making this recommendation, the special committee recognized its scope and potential impact on for-profit referral services. The special committee also recognized the potential legal implications of such a recommendation. Nevertheless, after consultation with outside legal counsel, the committee unanimously endorsed the recommendation.

2.         A lawyer receiving or accepting client referrals from a referral service shall register such referral service participation with The Florida Bar, including all referral services with which the lawyer participates. In addition, any such lawyer shall provide complete disclosures regarding the lawyer’s relationship with the referral service, ownership of the service, financial arrangements between the service and the lawyer, and the lawyer’s affirmation of compliance with all Bar rules regarding referral services. Such attorney registration shall require payment of a fee as may be determined by The Florida Bar.

3.         A lawyer participating with a referral service for the purpose of receiving or accepting client referrals must designate a lawyer within the lawyer’s firm to serve as the responsible party for the firm for all cases referred to the firm or any attorney in the firm by a referral service.

4.         A lawyer is prohibited from initiating contact with a prospective client referred by a referral service; all such contact must be initiated by the prospective client.

5.         A lawyer accepting referrals from a lawyer referral service shall provide complete disclosures to clients of their participation in referral services, such as either a revised or addendum to the Client’s Statement of Rights, notification in law firm reception areas and inclusion of the referral service participation in lawyer advertising.

6.         The Florida Bar shall implement enhanced disciplinary enforcement of its rules and regulations related to lawyers participating in referral services.

7.         The Florida Bar shall implement enhanced public education of its rules and regulations related to lawyers participating in referral services.

Bottom line:  As I have previously reported, this Special Committee has drawn wide attention and met on various occasions and accepted input from interested parties, including from representatives of the referral services, such as ASK GARY.

The  report urges that the Bar impose much stronger regulation of lawyers who are involved with for-profit referral services.  The major recommendations include prohibiting lawyers from accepting referrals from services which also refer individuals to other professionals, requiring lawyers to register his or her participation with The Florida Bar and make detailed disclosures regarding the lawyer’s relationship with the service, requiring lawyers to designate a responsible lawyer, prohibiting lawyers from initiating contact with the prospective referral, requiring lawyers to make full disclosures of their participation in the referral services to clients, implementing enhanced public education of the rules, and recommending that the Bar “implement enhanced disciplinary enforcement of its rules and regulations related to lawyers participating in referral services.”  If you would like to comment on the special committee’s  report, you should contact The Florida Bar in Tallahassee or your local Florida Bar Board of Governors member.

Be careful out there!

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.

THE LAW OFFICE OF JOSEPH A. CORSMEIER, P.A.

PROVIDES ETHICS ADVICE AND EXPERT OPINIONS TO LAWYERS AND LAW FIRMS

DEFENDS LAWYERS IN BAR MISSION AND DISCIPLINE CASES

(AND MUCH MORE!)

Disclaimer:  this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

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About jcorsmeier

Joseph A. Corsmeier is an “AV” rated attorney practicing in Clearwater, Florida. He concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of defense of attorney disciplinary matters before The Florida Bar, attorney admission matters before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, and professional license and disciplinary matters before the Boards of the State of Florida. He provides expert analysis and opinion on conflict of interest and other attorney disqualification and legal malpractice issues and he testified as an expert in the Florida courts. He served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1986 to 1990 where he prosecuted felonies exclusively from June 1987, and as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation from 1990 to 1998. He also practices in the areas of estate planning and Medicaid qualification, workers’ compensation, and labor law. Mr. Corsmeier is the author of numerous articles for various bar publications, has spoken at numerous local and statewide seminars on various topics, including ethics and professionalism, and was an instructor of legal ethics for paralegals at Rollins College until the Tampa campus closed. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and his J.D. from Mercer University. He is admitted to practice in all Florida Courts, the Supreme Court of the United States, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the Middle District of Florida. He is a member of The Florida Bar, American Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations.
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