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July 15, 2016
Board to take up referral services at July meeting

Bar rule amendments that address for-profit lawyer referral services, online legal service providers, legal directories, and similar operations — and how lawyers interact with them — are set for a vote at the Board of Governors July 29 meeting in Miami Beach.

The vote will culminate years of work that began with a study of lawyer referral service rules and expanded to the onslaught on new ways of matching lawyers with potential clients, including by online companies offering to match potential clients with lawyers who will handle everything from document review to complex transactions.

The board had extensive presentations on the rules at its March and May meetings. One major change is that any entity that seeks to connect lawyers with potential clients would be designated as a “qualifying provider.” That would include for-profit lawyer referral services, the new online companies offering legal help, legal directories, and similar operations. The rules would not affect nonprofit lawyer referral services operated by The Florida Bar and local voluntary bar associations.

While qualifying providers would be able to charge a technology or advertising fee, they would not be permitted to split fees with attorneys using their services, including charging a fixed percentage of the fee paid to the attorney, a fee based on the perceived value of the case, or a fee based on the attorney’s success with the case. Nor would the qualifying providers be allowed in any way to direct or influence the case or the lawyer’s judgment.

Qualifying providers would have to follow Bar advertising rules, but lawyers participating with those providers would not be mandated to have malpractice insurance. (See story in the July 1 News for complete details.)

The board must file a report on the issue with the Supreme Court by August 15.

The Bar also will vote on a series of rule amendments increasing the number of attorneys who can qualify for emeritus status and making it easier for emeritus attorneys to provide pro bono service.

The amendments could increase the number of emeritus attorneys from around 24 to as many as 3,500. The changes would allow retired judges, inactive attorneys, and current or former law professors to qualify for emeritus status.

Amendments came from recommendations by the Supreme Court’s Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice and if approved by the board will go to the court.

On another matter and in accordance with Bar policies, the board will formally retire all Bar, committee, and section legislative positions from the 2014-16 biennium. It may also consider reauthorizing some of those positions at the request of committees or sections. The Legislation Committee will recommend action on Bar-wide positions later this year.

The board will also pick one lawyer to finish an unexpired term on the Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc., Board of Directors, and five lawyers to serve on the Florida Legal Services, Inc., Board of Directors.

[Revised: 07-18-2018]