The most annoying and repetitive media advertizing these days might be the TV, radio, and billboard ads by for-profit legal referral services. The Florida Bar Association and the Florida Supreme Court have long recognized the potential for public harm and ethics violations posed by lawyers accepting referrals of clients from these services. It is unethical for a lawyer to solicit or pay for clients and lawyers must avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest with a client.
On September 24, 2015, in Order SC14-2126, the Supreme Court of Florida came out with guns blazing and demanded that the Florida Bar Association propose new and tougher rules governing accepting cases from for-profit legal referral services and lawyers referring to doctors owned, or controlled by the referral services. The Court noted numerous complaints about the advertizing and misleading activities of these services. Citing an investigative report the Court noted how referral services had used advertizing to disguise unethical direct solicitations of clients by lawyers. Clients who sought help from referred lawyers against a referred doctor were told the lawyer couldn’t help because the lawyer represented the referral service. One article noted that the clients received treatment they didn’t understand and the referral attorney gave little or no advice. The client was left only with a secretary to deal with. Often the client was left with significant bills.
The Court concluded that the public is at significant risk from for-profit referral services that also refer client’s to other businesses. It noted that these injured clients are vulnerable and much stricter regulation is required. The Florida Bar was sent back to the drawing board to draft new rules that preclude Florida lawyers from accepting referrals from any referral service not owned by a member of the Florida Bar Association.
The Court said this severe action is necessary to protect the public from services that use lawyers to send clients to undesired, unnecessary or even harmful treatment or services. Numerous lawyers argued before the Court, including a number of them representing “1-800-411-Pain Referral Service, LLC” and “1-800-Ask-Gary“. Over my career as a personal injury lawyer, it has been my opinion that for-profit referral services often benefit themselves to a far greater extent than the clients. Hopefully, there will be a change and the abuses noted by the Court will end. The full Court Order is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2015/sc14-2126.pdf