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‘Pay-per-lead’ plan on its way to the Bar Board of Governors

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‘Pay-per-lead’ plan on its way to the Bar Board of Governors

One of the trickiest questions about the relationships between services that seek to link lawyers with potential clients is being sent to the Bar Board of Governors for advice.

a 5-1 vote, the Bar’s Standing Committee on Advertising has referred to the board a question about a lawyer referral service’s proposed fee schedule that is based on the type of case referred and also amounts to a “pay-per-lead” plan.

The committee took up the query from the service at its gathering at the Bar’s Winter Meeting. The proposal raises questions about compliance with Bar Rule 4-5.4, which prohibits sharing fees with nonlawyers.

The referral service wanted to know if it could charge different fees for different types of cases referred; for example $10 for each personal injury case, $15 for each family law case, and $20 for each criminal case referred and if that violates Rule 4-5.4.

The Bar has an extensive rewrite of its lawyer referral rules pending at the Supreme Court, including broadening the definition to referral services to “qualified providers” to include the growing number of online legal service companies that match potential clients with lawyers. Those companies have a variety of ways to collect fees from participating lawyers, as well as different payment structures for various types of cases.

Bar staff looked at the issue and sent it to the committee for guidance, and the committee in turn decided to seek counsel from the Board of Governors.

“We felt that this was such an important issue to Florida lawyers that the Board of Governors should weigh in before we took a position as a committee,” committee Chair Carolyn Bell said.

In the past, the Board of Governors rejected a referral service that sought to charge lawyers a fixed $300 fee for each case accepted (which was to be billed to the client) as an improper sharing of fees with a nonlawyer.

Some other states, however, allow pay-per-lead or payment based on the number of “clicks” to a lawyer’s website from internet referrals services in limited situations. Some states prohibit lawyer referral services unless they are not-for-profit.

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