Is attorney marketing on Groupon ethical? States disagree.

Attorney marketing display of Groupon icon

Attorney marketing on Groupon: conflicting decisions leave lawyers in some state with no guidance

One issue that perfectly displays the ethical uncertainty that exists in the world of online attorney marketing is the current Groupon situation.

New York says its permissible, with caveats. North Carolina and South Carolina have said it’s ethically permissible. Alabama has issued a more recent decision saying it’s impermissible. Lawyers in other states are left in limbo. [Read more…]

New ABA ethics rules target attorney marketing on Internet, social media (Part 3 in a series)

Online lead generation addressed in new rules and comments

Questions about the ethical propriety of lawyers paying non-lawyers for online leads hit the headlines in April, 2009, when a Connecticut lawyer filed a complaint in 42 states against Total Attorneys, which sold bankruptcy leads to lawyers.

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The argument against the practice was that it allegedly violated Rule 7.2(b) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. That’s the rule that forbids lawyers from giving anything of value for recommending his or her services, with limited exceptions (i.e., permissible advertising). Here’s the language of 7.2(b) in 2009:

(b) A lawyer shall not give anything of value for the recommendation of the lawyer’sservices except that the lawyer may:
(1) pay the reasonable costs of advertisements or communications permitted by this Rule;
(2) pay the usual charges of a legal service plan or a not-for-profit or qualified lawyer referral service. A qualified lawyer referral service is a lawyer referral service that has been approved by an appropriate regulatory authority;
(3) pay for a law practice in accordance with Rule 1.17;
(4) refer clients to another lawyer or a nonlawyer professional pursuant to an agreement not otherwise prohibited under these rules that provides for the other person to refer clients or customers to the lawyer, if
(i) the reciprocal referral agreement is not exclusive, and
(ii) the client is informed of the existence and nature of the agreement.

Over the course of several months, Total Attorneys won every decision in a series of states. The remaining complaints were apparently dismissed without published opinions. The defeat of the complaints against Total Attorneys seemingly settled the issue of the legality of lawyers paying for online leads, without the ethics rules actually speaking to the issue. [Read more…]

New ABA ethics rules target attorney marketing on Internet, social media (Part 2 in a series)

Attorney advertising ethics and social media

I’ll give one example of a potential problem with the new rules and comments here. Rule 7.3 has been changed in several places, and has been renamed. Formerly the rule was titled, “Direct Contact With Prospective Clients.” The new name is “Solicitation of Clients.

Upon first reading, the renaming of the rule 7.3 seems to be the most significant change. I believe it’s a little bit unusual to change the name of a rule. It really wasn’t necessary. One wonders if it reflects someone’s opinion that “direct contact with prospective clients” equates to “solicitation.”

Most of us who represent individuals as clients are familiar with Rule 7.3. That’s the rule that bans solicitation if you have a significant financial motive for the solicitation, except in certain rare cases. You may solicit a lawyer or a person with whom you have a family, close personal, or prior professional relationship. Or you may send a direct solicitation to a person who may need legal services, if you stamp the words “Advertising Material”on an envelope you mail to a potential client, or put the words “Advertising Material” at the beginning and end of any electronic solicitation communication. Although writing “Advertising Material” at the beginning and end of an electronic communication, violation of the solicitation rule can result in potentially serious disciplinary proceedings. [Read more…]

New ABA ethics rules target attorney marketing on Internet, social media (Part 1 in a series)

Attorney advertising ethics on Internet and social networking get clarification from ABA

The ABA House of Delegates voted in August to amend the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct to expressly include attorney Internet advertising ethics rules and add comments regarding attorney solicitation of clients online. ABA Resolution 105B (adopted August 2012) changing attorney advertising ethics rules for online attorney marketing can be viewed here.

The new rules may have been intended to clear up questions about what’s permissible in internet and social media marketing. Unfortunately, the new rules and comments raise questions about compliance, particularly with regard to a lawyer’s use of social media. [Read more…]