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July 15, 2013
Board to take up LRS rules

Future of the practice and senior lawyers are also on the agenda

Recommendations on new rules affecting lawyer referral services, details on a commission studying the future of law practice, and rules for the new Senior Lawyers Committee will be on the Bar’s Board of Governors July 26 meeting agenda.

The board also is scheduled to review a membership petition to amend Bar rules to allow the admission of undocumented immigrants and an advertising advisory opinion on using metatags in attorney websites.

The board meeting, at Amelia Island, will be the first of the 2013-14 Bar year and the first with President Eugene Pettis at the helm.

The Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics has been studying since last year recommendations from the Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services. The BRCPE is still deliberating but has voted on several recommendations. Those include the potentially farthest reaching proposal from the special committee that lawyers not be allowed to belong to referral services that also make referrals of callers for other professional services from the same incident that led to the referral to the lawyer.

That recommendation would affect large referral services, such as Ask Gary and 411-PAIN, which can refer callers for both medical treatment and legal assistance.

Other recommendations include that lawyers must notify the Bar of referral services in which they participate, must designate a member of the law firm to be primarily responsible for complying with referral rules, may not make the initial contact with a referred client, and must disclose to clients that they pay to participate in the referral service. Additionally, they may not refer a client to another person, organization, or service in exchange for receiving a referral.

Left unchanged are Bar rules that prohibit attorneys from participating in referral services that engage in direct or any other solicitation prohibited by Bar rules or that do not follow Bar advertising rules.

BRCPE Chair Carl Schwait told the board at its May meeting he expects the board to vote on the proposals at its December meeting.

Pettis’ proposed Commission 2016: Comprehensive Study of the Future Practice of Law was unveiled to the board at the May meeting after the Program Evaluation Committee approved the idea in concept. At the July meeting, the PEC is expected to bring details for the board’s approval.

Pettis said the panel, expected to run for at least three years, will look at technology, bar admissions, legal education, and pro bono/legal aid services.

Also to be fleshed out are operating procedures for the new Senior Lawyers Committee, which the board approved in May. The committee, created in lieu of an original request for a new section, will study the special problems and challenges of aging lawyers, as well as the unique resources they offer for younger attorneys and the profession.

The rare member petition to amend Bar rules came from Tallahassee attorney Sandy D’Alemberte and his wife, Patsy Palmer. They represent José Manuel Godinez-Samperio, an undocumented immigrant who came to this country with his parents at the age of 9. The proposed amendment would add a provision to Bar rules banning the refusal to admit someone to Bar membership based on immigration status.

Under Bar rules, member-generated rule amendment petitions must be submitted to the Board of Governors for its comment 90 days before being filed with the Supreme Court. The petition for this rule change was noticed in the July 1 Bar News.

The petition has been referred to the Rules Committee, which meets the day before the board meeting and can make a recommendation to the board.

The proposed advertising opinion (PAO A-12-1) was prepared by the Standing Committee on Advertising at the board’s behest. It addresses metatags and hidden language that could be misleading on an attorney website.

Metatags are short phrases or words to describe a website and its content and are typically part of the software used to design the website. Although not normally seen by website visitors, search engines use metatags to help sort sites when an Internet user conducts a search. Similarly, the search engines look at content of a website. Hidden text are words that are made invisible to the average user because the text matches the background color, is set in a tiny font, or is otherwise manipulated.

The opinion states that lawyers should not use false or misleading information in this invisible information, such as the name of another law firm, listing an area where they do not practice, or a locality where they do not have an office. The opinion notes that the use of hidden text “would almost always be inherently false and misleading” and hence a violation of the rules.

[Revised: 11-27-2014]