Monthly Archives: January 2016

Lawyer directory website Avvo is offering fixed fee legal services on a limited basis and plans to expand the services

 

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent decision by the lawyer directory website Avvo to offer legal services to individuals through selected lawyers for a fixed fee and charge the lawyers a marketing fee to participate.  An ABA article dated January 12, 2015 discussing Avvo’s plans is here: ABA 1-12-16 Avvo legal services article

According to the ABA article, Avvo recently began testing the new service and it plans to offer the services more broadly over the next few months.  The service is called Avvo Legal Services offers a variety of limited-scope legal services at a fixed fee. The legal services include review of legal documents such as business contracts and nondisclosure agreements as well as more complicated matters such as uncontested divorces and citizenship applications.

According to the article, Laura Moriarty, Avvo’s vice president of communications, stated that Avvo is testing the service in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix and will begin offering the services in additional markets in February 2016. “Moriarty declined to identify the markets where it will initially be offered except to confirm that one will be Massachusetts.”

The ABA article states that “Avvo first got into the business of offering legal advice last year when it launched Avvo Advisor, a service that provides on-demand legal advice by phone for a fixed fee of $39 for 15 minutes. With this new service, Avvo will determine the types of services to be provided and the prices. Attorneys who sign up will be able to select which services they want to offer. When a client buys a service, Avvo sends the client’s information to the attorney. The attorney then contacts the client directly and completes the service.”

“Clients will be able to choose the attorney they want from a list of those within their geographic area who have registered to participate. Clients pay the full price for the service up front.  After the service is completed, Avvo sends the attorney the full legal fee, paid once a month for fees earned the prior month. As a separate transaction, the attorney pays Avvo a per-service marketing fee. This is done as a separate transaction to avoid fee-splitting, according to Avvo. Attorneys pay nothing to participate except for the per-case marketing fee.”

“Among the services to be offered will be document review for $199, for which the attorney will pay a $50 marketing fee; formation of a single-member LLC for $595, with a $125 marketing fee; uncontested divorce for $995, with a $200 marketing fee; and green card application for $2,995, with a $400 marketing fee.  The terms of the service require attorneys to contact a new client within one business day for a 30-minute introductory call. If the attorney determines the client is not the right fit, the attorney can decline the representation.”

An online FAQ about the legal services on Avvo’s website states that “(l)ocal clients purchase legal services, choose the attorney they want to work with, and pay the full price of the service up front. The chosen attorney then completes the service for the client and is paid the full legal fee. As a separate transaction, the chosen attorney pays a per-service marketing fee for the completed, paid service.

Avvo General Counsel Josh King also states in the FAQ that Avvo is not acting as a lawyer referral service and that lawyers should not be concerned about fee splitting since “(f)ee splits are not inherently unethical. They only become a problem if the split creates a situation that may compromise a lawyer’s professional independence of judgment. We believe that Avvo Legal Services fees, like credit card fees, would involve the sort of technical fee split that would not create such a potential for compromise. Nonetheless, we have tried to keep things simple and clear by making the per-service marketing fee a separate charge.”  The FAQ is here:  Avvo legal services FAQ

Bottom line:  Although it is clear that AVVO (a third party non-lawyer website) is attempting to structure this legal services arrangement in a way to avoid ethics issues, whether this arrangement is ethical or unethical is subject to further analysis and interpretation by each jurisdiction regarding fee splitting and potential lawyer referral issues.  Lawyers who are interested in participating should carefully review their jurisdiction’s Bar rules and/or consult with and consult their Bar or consult with a lawyer familiar with the Bar rules before agreeing to participate.

Be careful out there!

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement and 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

NOTICE OF CONFIDENTIALITY:  This electronic communication and the information contained herein is legally privileged and confidential proprietary information intended only for the individual and/or entity to whom it is addressed pursuant to the American Bar Association Formal Opinion No. 99-413, dated March 10, 1999 and all other applicable laws and rules.  If you receive this transmission in error, you are advised that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or the taking of any action in reliance upon the communication is strictly prohibited.  Any unauthorized use, distribution, or disclosure of this communication is strictly prohibited.  If you have received this in error, please notify us immediately by return e-mail at the above telephone number and then delete message entirely from your system.  Thank you for your cooperation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Attorney Ethics, Avvo legal services, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, lawyer fee splitting, Lawyer Referral Services

Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal upholds lawyer’s $350,000.00 judgment against client who posted false online reviews/comments

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent opinion of the Fourth District Court of Appeal upholding a judgment in a lawsuit filed by a lawyer alleging libel for false online comments..  The case is Ann-Marie Giustibelli, P.A. et al v. Copia Blake and Peter Birzon, Case No. 4D14-3231 (Florida 4th DCA, January 6, 2016) and the link to the opinion is here: http://www.4dca.org/opinions/Jan.%202016/01-06-16/4D14-3231.op.pdf

According to the opinion, the lawyer, who practices in Plantation, Florida, represented Copia Blake in her divorce from Peter Birzon; however, (a)fter a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship between Guistibelli and her client, Blake and oddly, Birzon as well, took to the Internet to post defamatory reviews of Guistibelli.”  The reviews complained about the lawyer’s representation alleged that the lawyer had “altered her charges to four times the original (fee) quote with no explanation” and then submitted doctored evidence to the court during the litigation to cover up the false statements.

The lawyer sued Blake and Birzon for libel and damages based on the false online reviews (and also for breach of contract) and was awarded $350,000.00 in punitive damages on the libel allegation after both admitted in court that they posted the reviews and “both admitted at trial that Giustibelli had not charged Blake four times more than what was quoted in the agreement.” The opinion quoted the online statements:

“She misrepresented her fees with regards to the contract I initially signed. The contract she submitted to the courts for her fees were 4 times her original quote and pages of the original had been exchanged to support her claims…”

“No integrity. Will say one thing and do another. Her fees outweigh the truth.”

“Altered her charges to 4 times the original quote with no explanation.”

Blake and Birzon argued that their internet reviews “constituted statements of opinion and thus were protected by the First Amendment and not actionable as defamation.”  The opinion found that “all the reviews contained allegations that Giustibelli lied to Blake regarding the attorney’s fee.  Two of the reviews contained the allegation that Giustibelli falsified a contract. These are factual allegations, and the evidence showed they were false.”

The opinion also addressed the argument that libel per se no longer exists after the United States Supreme Court opinion in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974) (here: Gertz v. Welch USSC 1974) and stated that “the Florida Supreme Court recognized that, with respect to a libel action against the media, it is no longer accurate to say that words “amounting to a libel per se necessarily import damage and malice in legal contemplation, so these elements need not be pleaded or proved, as they are conclusively presumed as a matter of law.’” (emphasis supplied).  The opinion also noted that, since the lawyer was not a media defendant, libel per se still applied.

Bottom line:  According to this Florida appellate opinion, a Florida lawyer can sue a client (and her spouse or ex-spouse) for false and libelous online statements and, since the lawyer was not a media defendant, libel per se applies if the statements are shown to be factually false.

Be careful out there!

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement and 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 client online false statements libel, Lawyer libel against clients, Lawyer suing client for libel

New York City Bar Association issues ethics opinion addressing LinkedIn profiles and New York attorney advertising rules

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent Formal Opinion of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York Committee on Professional Ethics which concluded that a lawyer’s LinkedIn profile is not subject to New York Bar advertising rules if it is not posted specifically for the purpose of attracting clients and the profile will be considered to be attorney advertising only if it meets all five of the criteria listed in the opinion.  The opinion is Formal Opinion 2015-7: Application of Attorney Advertising Rules to LinkedIn (December 2015) and the link to the opinion is here: http://www.nycbar.org/ethics/ethics-opinions-local/2015opinions/2350-formal-opinion-2015-7-application-of-attorney-advertising-rules-to-linkedin

According to the opinion, a New York lawyer’s LinkedIn profile or other content will be considered to be lawyer advertising only if it meets all five of the following criteria:

  • it is a communication made by or on behalf of the lawyer;
  • the primary purpose of the LinkedIn content is to attract new clients to retain the lawyer for pecuniary gain;
  • the LinkedIn content relates to the legal services offered by the lawyer;
  • the LinkedIn content is intended to be viewed by potential new clients; and
  • the LinkedIn content does not fall within any recognized exception to the definition of attorney advertising.

The opinion further states that “(g)iven the numerous reasons that lawyers use LinkedIn, it should not be presumed that an attorney who posts information about herself on LinkedIn necessarily does so for the primary purpose of attracting paying clients. For example, including a list of ‘Skills’, a description of one’s practice areas, or displaying ‘Endorsements’ or ‘Recommendations’, without more, does not constitute attorney advertising.”

The opinion concludes that: “(i)f an attorney’s individual LinkedIn profile or other content meets the definition of attorney advertising, the attorney must comply with the requirements of Rules 7.1, 7.4 and 7.5, including, but not limited to: (1) labeling the LinkedIn content ‘Attorney Advertising’; (2) including the name, principal law office address and telephone number of the lawyer; (3) pre-approving any content posted on LinkedIn; (4) preserving a copy for at least one year; and (5) refraining from false, deceptive or misleading statements. These are only some of the requirements associated with attorney advertising. Before disseminating any advertisements, whether on social media or otherwise, the attorney should ensure that those advertisements comply with all requirements set forth in Article 7 of the New York Rules.

Bottom line:  According to this New York City ethics opinion, a LinkedIn profile will not be considered to be a lawyer advertisement unless certain conditions are met.  It is my opinion that most, if not all, other jurisdictions would agree with this analysis and opinion.  This opinion provides a good summary of the conditions which may cause a LinkedIn profile to become a lawyer  advertisement.

Be careful out there!

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement and 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

NOTICE OF CONFIDENTIALITY:  This electronic communication and the information contained herein is legally privileged and confidential proprietary information intended only for the individual and/or entity to whom it is addressed pursuant to the American Bar Association Formal Opinion No. 99-413, dated March 10, 1999 and all other applicable laws and rules.  If you receive this transmission in error, you are advised that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or the taking of any action in reliance upon the communication is strictly prohibited.  Any unauthorized use, distribution, or disclosure of this communication is strictly prohibited.  If you have received this in error, please notify us immediately by return e-mail at the above telephone number and then delete message entirely from your system.  Thank you for your cooperation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2013 Florida comprehensive advertising rule revisions, Attorney Ethics, Florida Lawyer advertising rules, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer advertising, Lawyer advertising Linkedin.com, Lawyer Advertising opinion, Lawyer advertising rules, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions, Lawyer ethics opinions Linkedin.com, Lawyer social media ethics, Lawyers and social media