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Malpractice Alert Nov/Dec 2016 – Opinion 2016-3

Article: December 31, 2016  |  Malpractice Alerts

The Board of Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Ohio issued Advisory Opinions in 2016 that provide advice for attorneys on the application of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar. Click on the opinion number to read the opinion.

Opinion 2016-3 addressed Lawyer Participation in Referral Services. Online lawyer referral services are proliferating and may seem like an attractive way to get new clients.

This Opinion examined whether an online lawyer referral service that matches a prospective client with a lawyer for a particular legal service and requires the lawyer to pay a “marketing fee” for each completed client matter is permissible.

The Opinion acknowledged that this presented multiple, potential ethical issues:

  • fee-splitting with non-lawyers
  • advertising and marketing
  • lawyer’s responsibility for nonlawyer assistants interference with lawyer’s professional judgment
  • facilitating unauthorized practice of law

These issues involve Professional Conduct Rules 1.1, 1.6, 1.18. 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 and Rule XVI of the Rules for the Government of the Bar, which provides the requirements for Lawyer Referral and Information Services.

The Opinion concluded that a lawyer should carefully evaluate a lawyer referral service to ensure the lawyer’s participation is consistent with the ethical requirements.  It also stated that a fee structure that is tied specifically  to individual client representations that a lawyer completes or to the percentage of a fee is not permissible, unless the lawyer referral service is registered with the Supreme Court of Ohio, pursuant to Gov Bar Rule XVI.

While using online marketing to attract clients can be beneficial, this Opinion cautions that lawyers must be careful about how they engage with such services.

Click here to see the entire Malpractice Alert Nov/Dec 2016.

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