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.
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 [email protected]. 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.
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
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.