Hello and welcome to this JACPA Ethics Alert which will discuss the May 4, 2012 meeting of the Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services wherein the committee voted, inter alia, to recommend that the Bar rules be revised to prohibit lawyers from participating in combined lawyer/medical (or other non-legal) referral services.
As reported in the June 1, 2012 issue of The Florida Bar News, the special committee voted unanimously to recommend that lawyers be prohibited by rule from participating in combined lawyer/medical (or other non-legal) referral services. The committee recommended the prohibition after receiving an opinion from outside Bar counsel Barry Richard indicating that it would not violate the U.S. Constitution or restraint of trade laws to impose such a prohibition. The committee also voted to retain the requirement that lawyer referral services register with the Bar, but to include restrictions that would prohibit referral services to claim such registration means they are “Bar approved”.
Some of the committee members discussed concerns (which had been discussed at previous meetings) about potential conflicts when a lawyer represents a client who has also been referred to medical treatment at a facility in which the referral service has a financial interest. This concern arises from the fact that, since lawyers who settle such a personal injury case are also expected to negotiate medical liens and bills incurred by their clients, these charges would potentially be owed to the entity affiliated with the lawyer referral service which sent the lawyer the case and from which the lawyer would presumably hope to obtain more referrals.
Another issue/concern discussed by the committee was that, since the committee is recommending that lawyers be required to report referral services with which they are affiliated, the requirement that the referral services to register may be redundant; however, since some services apparently use their registration with the Bar to claim that they are “Bar approved”, some committee members said it would be harder to keep track of the services and their compliance with Bar rules (including review of their advertisements) without the registration requirement.
The committee considered and approved (with 2 dissents) a motion to recommend that the referral services continue to be required to register with the Bar and pay a fee with the registration, continue to be required to disclose the names of lawyers participating in the service, continue to be required to comply with all Bar rules, be prohibited from using the fact that they are registered with the Bar in any advertising, and be removed from the list of registered referral services if a complaint about their activities has been found to be valid.
The committee also discussed, but did not vote on, other issues and topics, including lawyer referral service fees and a potential joint legal-medical committee to look at referral services and the relationships between doctors and lawyers during the process of referring clients and patients to each other.
The two recommendations approved at the May 2012 committee meeting will be added to the four made earlier this year by the special committee, which were:
Requiring a referral to a law firm be made to a specific attorney at that firm who would be responsible for seeing that the referral complies with Bar rules,
Requiring attorneys who join referral services to register with the Bar,
Requiring that the initial contact to the lawyer be made by the client and not the referral service, medical clinic, or other third party,
Improving public education about referral services and related issues.
The special committee is scheduled to meet in June 2012 during the Bar’s Annual Convention in Orlando to potentially approve the final report, which may be provided to the Bar’s Board of Governors for review in July 2012.
Bottom line: This is the latest in the Bar’s ongoing investigation of potential additional restrictions of lawyer’s participation in for-profit lawyer referral services which is in response to criticism in the media and elsewhere; which may ultimately result in the implementation of new and revised Bar rules which will further restrict lawyer’s participation in these services. 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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