The Supreme Court of Florida approved amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar that increase regulation of lawyers participation in referral services, effective April 30, 2018. The amendments to Rule 4-7.22 establish a “single regulatory scheme” under which participation in “matching” services, lawyer referral services, lawyer directories, and other similar services are all subject to the same restrictions.
The amended Rule regulates a lawyer’s participation with “qualifying providers,” which include any referral or matching service as well as any group or pooled advertising program. Under the amended Rule, a lawyer may only participate with a qualifying provider that:
- Does not require or pressure participating lawyers to make cross referrals;
- Provides participating lawyers with documentation of its compliance with Florida Bar rules;
- Discloses to prospective client the location of the lawyer office at the time of the referral; and
- Does not suggest that the provider is a law firm, can practice law or can directly provide legal services.
Providers still are subject to lawyer advertising rules, the prohibition against fee-sharing, and the prohibition against stating or implying Florida Bar endorsement.
Regulation of the Rule occurs through the participating lawyers. Lawyers must notify The Florida Bar within 15 days of starting or ceasing participation with a qualifying provider. A lawyer is responsible for a provider’s compliance with the Rule if: (1) the lawyer does not engage in due diligence on the provider’s compliance prior to participating, or (2) the lawyer does not stop participating and give documentation of such to The Florida Bar within 30 days after notice from the Bar of the provider’s noncompliance.
While the Court adopted the proposed amendment, the Court found that one thing was glaringly absent from the proposed amendments. In previously rejecting proposed amendments to Rule 4-7.22, the Court had specifically directed the Bar to propose amendments that “preclude Florida lawyers from accepting referrals from any lawyer referral service that is not owned or operated by a member of the Bar.” See In re Amendments to Rule Regulating the Florida Bar 4-7.22—Lawyer Referral Services, 175 So. 3d 779, 781 (Fla. 2015). The proposed amendment did not do so.
Nevertheless, the Court found the “amendments are necessary to ensure that all services that connect prospective clients to lawyers conform to the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and operate in a manner consistent with the public interest.” But, the Court directed the Bar to submit a petition within ninety days proposing amendments to rule 4-7.22, and any other rule necessary, to address the concerns raised in the Court’s prior ruling.
This content is provided via a partnership with the Florida Legal Ethics Report blog, maintained by LKLSG attorney Victoria J. Wilson. The full blog can be accessed at http://ethicslawblog.com/