The Florida Bar’s lawyer referral committee votes to recommend that lawyers be banned from participating in combined lawyer and medical (non-lawyer) referral services

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.

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!)

My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, defense of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms.  If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license.

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at jcorsmeier@jac-law.com.  You can find my law firm on the web at www.jac-law.com. In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida.  I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.

You are receiving this ETHICS ALERT since you are a current or former client or you have requested that this Update be sent to you.  Please note that you may opt in or out of receiving this ETHICS ALERT any time.  If you would like to discontinue receipt of this ETHICS ALERT or if you would like to begin receiving it, simply send me an e-mail to me advising of your request.

If there are others at your firm who would like to be included on the distribution list, please feel free to forward this update to them or let us know in an email.  If you would like to forward this Ethics Alert to any person or entity please feel free do so as long as it is not for personal gain and you forward the entire email, including all contact information and disclaimers.

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

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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Filed under Attorney discipline, Attorney Ethics, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Florida Lawyer Referral Services, joe corsmeier, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer Referral Services

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