Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Proposed Changes To The Florida Referral Rule For Lawyers May Be Questionable

Proposed rule changes submitted to the Florida Supreme Court on August 15, would remove some restrictions for lawyer’s participation in for-profit referral services.
If approved the amended rule would apply to attorney matching websites like Avvo and Legal Zoom as well as non-lawyer owned referral services. The malpractice insurance requirement would be eliminated and rules requiring certain disclaimers in the services ads would be removed.
In addition, a few requirements prohibiting lawyers from working with services that coerce them into providing cross referrals or fail to document their compliance with bar rules will be added.
“You want to make sure that any of the advertising from any of the companies is honest, it’s truthful, it’s not misleading to the public,” said Florida Bar President Bill Schiffino to the Daily Business Review. “You don’t want any inappropriate fee-sharing. You want to make sure that there’s no conflicts of interest. While we cannot regulate these entities – we have no jurisdiction over an internet provider – we do have jurisdiction over the lawyers.”
The amendments were approved last month at a meeting of the Florida board of governors in Miami.
Floridians have been bombarded with ads on TV, radio and billboards targeting car accident victims and slip and fall cases. After receiving a large number of complaints about referrals to affiliated legal and medical care that was sub-standard the association began an investigation. The services such as ASK-GARY and 411-PAIN maintain that they followed the rules. Note that both of those services are owned by chiropractors.
At their meeting on July 29, the board of governors had to take into consideration how the current rule might be a hindrance to consumers seeking lawyers and young lawyers looking for referrals, as the national online matching services had grown considerably.
John Stewart, a Vero Beach Attorney with the firm of Rossway Swan Tierney Barry Lacey & Oliver, who heads the bar technology committee, put it this way. “The overall intention was to ensure that the traditional core values for the profession were protected while still allowing the companies that operate within the regulatory framework to operate.”
The term ‘lawyer referral service” would be eliminated under the amended rule and changed to the term “qualifying provider” due to the fact that some states do not allow for-profit referral services or define them differently. The revised term would include online matching services, directories, group or pooled advertising programs, as well as tip or lead programs. The services would no longer have to include in their advertisements disclaimers that lawyers have to pay to participate or that they are lawyer referral services.
One prominent issue that arose when it came to creating the amendments was a Florida Supreme Court Directive that the new rule should keep lawyers from working with referral services not owned and operated by lawyers.
411-PAIN and ASK-GARY, two of the largest referral services in the state are owned by chiropractors, not lawyers.
Gainesville lawyer Carl Schwait, head of the bars committee on professional ethics said that the boards constitutional expert advised the board of governors that such a restriction could interfere with rights to commerce and free speech. The group could not find a rational basis for changing the rule.
“We can just as easily regulate the lawyers involved by working with qualified providers, whether or not the qualified providers are owned by a member of the bar,” Schwait said.
Schwait continued by saying that he was pleased that the proposed amendments draw a “bright line in the sand” about what lawyers need to know about referral services.
One of the two local bar associations that issued resolutions against the proposed changes was Broward County.
The association did not agree with requirement of malpractice insurance from being removed. Charles Morehead, the president of the Broward County Bar Association said lawyer referral services often advertise to less sophisticated consumers and may be offering lawyers who are incompetent to handle the cases at hand.
“All safeguards for the public are basically being deleted,” he said.
Beware of Lawyer Referral Services
As stated in the above content, lawyer referral services have been subject to a vast number of complaints. Many are owned by chiropractors and medical clinics who are paid by attorneys for referrals. The attorney in return refers the injured client to the chiropractor who uses up all of the clients' Personal Injury Protection (PIP) when they, in fact, should have been seeing a medical specialist for proper care. After that scenario, the unqualified lawyer convinces the client to settle out of court for compensation that is far below the cost of future medical bills, lost income over a lifetime and the value of their pain and suffering. The lawyer receives his fee for doing little work and moves on to the next case tossed to him by the referral service. Now add to that -- the attorney has no malpractice insurance. There is little chance of the victim recovering what he deserves.
At Dolman Law, we never pay a referral service for our clients and do not refer our clients to substandard medical care. If you need an attorney for a personal injury case, look on a legitimate lawyer rating site such as where real clients refer attorneys based on actual experiences. Feel free to check us out and then call for a free, no obligation, consultation with a highly rated personal injury attorney. At Dolman Law, we put our clients first. Call us today at 727-451-6900 for a free consultation.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
Source: Daily Business Review