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February 1, 2013
Advertising Committee examines online referral services

An Internet service offering to link, for a fee, lawyers with potential clients who have posted details of their cases and another offering a chat service for lawyers to answer questions from potential clients are both referral services, according to the Bar’s Standing Committee on Advertising.

The committee at its January 10 meeting reviewed those and other advertising issues. The lawyer referral actions came as the Bar Board of Governors is waiting for a report on recommendations from a special committee to tighten regulations on referral services and their lawyer members.

Under current rules, a Bar member cannot belong to a referral service that does not follow Bar rules. Those rules include filing quarterly reports with the Bar showing a list of participating members, following Bar rules on solicitation of potential clients, and following Bar advertising regulations.

The cases before the standing committee showed how technology is changing the way referral services are operating.

In one case, EagleFee.com is promoting a website for personal injury cases. It allows potential clients to post details about their cases and then offer to represent the clients by paying $25 per offer.

The committee determined that promotion constitutes a referral service under Bar Rule 4-7.10 and that Bar members cannot participate unless EagleFee follows Bar rules.

In the second case, Edviso.com offers a chance for lawyers to make themselves available for video chats for persons with legal questions. The committee advised that, based on the information it had, Edviso’s proposed operations constitute a referral service. The committee also noted that if Edviso does want to operate as a referral service in Florida, the use of the word “expert” in its ads would cause problems. Under Bar rules, only certified lawyers can refer to themselves as experts in ads.

On other issues, the committee set February 5 for a special meeting to discuss a proposed advisory opinion on the use of metatags and hidden text in attorney online advertising and on endorsements on the LinkedIn professional networking site.

[Revised: 11-12-2014]