Hello and welcome to this JACPA Ethics Alert blog which discusses the recent article in The Florida Bar News which reviewed the March 9, 2012 meeting of The Florida Bar’s Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services wherein the committee reviewed and discussed various options to impose restrictions on lawyers’ affiliation with for-profit referral services.
According to the article, the committee discussed several issues and matters, including a letter from outside Bar counsel Barry Richard addressing the constitutional implications of restrictions on referral services with which lawyers may be affiliated.
The committee is considering a prohibition on lawyers taking cases referred from an entity that also makes referrals for other professional services and members expressed concerns about potential conflicts when lawyers accept referrals from services that also refer callers for medical care. Members noted that when lawyers represent clients in personal injury cases, they typically try to negotiate lower medical bills; however, if a lawyer accepts referrals from a service which makes such multiple referrals, he or she would be negotiating with the entity (or a related entity) which referred them the case.
According to the article, the committee is considering how to structure restrictions on lawyer referral services to limit issues related to restraint of trade, free speech, and other constitutional issues. Representatives from two medical/legal referral services, ASK-GARY and 911 PAIN, attended the meeting and told committee members that there is no quid pro quo requirement that lawyer members of the referral services send clients to the medical clinics associated with their services.
The committee also discussed other proposals, including the requirement of a disclaimer by the referral service or the lawyer to all referral callers and potential clients and possible changes to the client’s bill of rights which is required to be provided to clients under the Bar Rules. The committee also discussed the potential of enhanced oversight by the Bar of referral activities and an administrative fee to be paid by lawyers who join referral services to pay for the costs of the Bar’s oversight.
The committee also reviewed the following recommendations and options made at an earlier meeting:
1. Requiring that a referral be made to a specific lawyer (and not to a law firm) and requiring the lawyer to become responsible for insuring that the referral complies with all Bar rules and requirements.
2. Requiring that lawyers who join referral services register with The Florida Bar. The current structure relies upon referral services to provide lists of their members, which has apparently been problematic.
3. Requiring that the initial contact with the lawyer be made by the client and not by the referral service, medical clinic, or other third party. This was in response to testimony by individuals who sought treatment from a medical clinic that they were told they first had to hire a lawyer and that clinic personnel or other non-lawyers had guided the completion of the fee retainers.
4. Improving public education about for-profit referral services and related issues.
Bottom line: As I have said before, it appears that restrictions on lawyer participation in for-profit lawyer referral services will be coming and the only questions are how the restrictions will be structured and how long it will be until those restrictions are in implemented. Stay tuned…
…and 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.
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