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Re: About: Ohio attorneys, and restrictions of joining in for profit - lawyer Referral servicesInboxxDorn, Heidi Wagner <Heidi.Dorn@sc.ohio.gov> 11:00 AM (1 hour ago)to me Brett,
I received your email seeking advice regarding Ohio
ethics rules on lawyer referral services. Our Board recently issued an
Advisory Opinion about lawyers’ participation in lawyer referral
services. See attached. Additionally, I recommend
that you consult, Gov.Bar R. XVI, as well as Prof.Cond.R. 7.1 and 7.3.
I hope this answers your questions.
Heidi Wagner Dorn, Esq. | Counsel
Ohio Board of Professional Conduct
Attachments areaClick here to Reply or Forward3.83 GB (25%) of 15 GB usedManageTerms - Privacy Last account activity: 54 minutes agoDetailsDorn, Heidi WagnerShow detailsPage2/7Page 1 of 7BOARD OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT
65 SOUTH FRONT STREET, 5
TH FLOOR, COLUMBUS, OH 43215-3431
Telephone: 614.387.9370 Fax: 614.387.9379
PAUL M. DE MARCO
RICHARD A. DOVE
WILLIAM J. NOVAK
D. ALLAN ASBURY
HEIDI WAGNER DORN
Issued June 3, 2016
Lawyer Participation in Referral Services
SYLLABUS: A lawyer should carefully evaluate a lawyer referral service, or similar
online model, to ensure that it complies with the Rules of Professional Conduct and the
ethical requirements of the lawyer. Where the service meets all of the elements of a
lawyer referral service, a participating lawyer must ensure that the service complies with
Gov.Bar R. XVI, in order for the lawyer to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
A lawyer’s participation in an online, nonlawyer-owned legal referral service, where the
lawyer is required to pay a “marketing fee” to a nonlawyer for each service completed
for a client, is unethical. A lawyer must ensure that the lawyer referral service does not
interfere with the lawyer’s independent professional judgment under Prof.Cond.R. 5.4.
A lawyer is responsible for the conduct of the nonlawyers of the service (Prof.Cond.R.
5.3), as well as the advertising and marketing provided by the service on the lawyer’s
behalf. Prof.Cond.R. 7.1, 7.2, 7.3. Additionally, a fee structure that is tied specifically to
individual client representations that a lawyer completes or to the percentage of a fee is
not permissible, unless the lawyer referral service is registered with the Supreme Court
of Ohio. Prof.Cond.R. 1.5, Gov.Bar R. XVI.
QUESTION: A lawyer seeks guidance regarding whether a particular business model
involving online lawyer referrals is permissible under the Rules of Professional Conduct
and the Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio. The proposed business model is an
online referral service that matches a prospective client with a lawyer for a particular
legal service. Although the client chooses the lawyer, the company defines the types of
legal services offered, the scope of the representation, the fees charged, and other
Page 2 of 7Op. 2016-3 2
parameters of the legal representation. Additionally, the model requires a lawyer to pay
a “marketing fee,” for each completed client matter. The “marketing fee” is based on the
fee generated from the completed individual legal matter. The requesting lawyer asks
whether this model constitutes impermissible fee splitting with a nonlawyer under
Prof.Cond.R. 1.5, or if the lawyer’s conduct would otherwise violate the Rules of
Professional Conduct. This is a hypothetical business model; however, the Board
acknowledges that similar business models currently exist in the marketplace. The
conclusions set forth in this opinion apply equally to the proposed business model and
aspects of existing business models.
APPLICABLE RULES: Prof.Cond.R. 1.1, 1.6, 1.18, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4; Gov.Bar R.
OPINION: This business model presents multiple, potential ethical issues for lawyers.
These include fee-splitting with nonlawyers, advertising and marketing, a lawyer’s
responsibility for the actions of nonlawyer assistants, interference with the lawyer’s
professional judgment, and facilitating the unauthorized practice of law. As similar
online services that match lawyers and clients exist, the Board will evaluate this type of
referral service generally to determine if a lawyer’s participation would comply with the
Rules of Professional Conduct.
ANALYSIS: The two most evident issues involving the Rules of Professional Conduct
are that this business model would 1) operate as lawyer referral service not registered
with the Supreme Court of Ohio, and 2) interfere with or limit the lawyer’s professional
independence from the lawyer-client relationship. There also are several other
considerations under the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Lawyer Referral Service
This business model may not refer to itself as a lawyer referral service in Ohio, yet
it proposes to function in a manner similar to a lawyer referral service. A lawyer referral
service operates to refer prospective clients to lawyers, based on a number of factors,
including area of practice, experience, and geographic location. Gov.Bar R. XVI, Section
1(A)(1), (7). A lawyer may participate in a lawyer referral service only if it meets the
requirements of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and it is registered with Supreme
Court of Ohio. Prof.Cond.R. 7.2(b)(2),(3), Cmt. ; Gov.Bar R. XVI, Section 1(A)(2), (B).
In Ohio, a lawyer referral service must meet certain requirements in order for a
lawyer to participate ethically. First, the lawyer referral service must be open to any
lawyer licensed to practice in Ohio who maintains professional liability insurance with a
Page 3 of 7Op. 2016-3 3
minimum amount of $100,000 per occurrence and $300,000 in the aggregate. Gov.Bar R.
XVI, Section 1(A)(3), Section 2(A)(1). Second, a lawyer participating in a lawyer referral
service is required to disclose disciplinary complaints. Gov.Bar R. XVI Sec. 2(A)(2), (4).
Additionally, a lawyer referral service may require a participating lawyer to pay a fee,
calculated as a percentage of the legal fee earned on the referred matter. Gov.Bar R. XVI,
Section 2(C)(1). If a business operates as a lawyer referral service, even though it is called
something else, it still must be registered with the Supreme Court of Ohio in order for a
lawyer to ethically participate in it.
In the business model, nonlawyers may perform legal or quasi-legal functions on
behalf of the lawyer. The lawyer has no implied or apparent control or direction over the
work of the nonlawyers at the company to ensure that they act in a manner that complies
with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
A lawyer is required to make reasonable efforts to ensure that any “nonlawyer
employed by, retained by, or associated with” the lawyer conducts himself or herself in
a manner that comports with the professional obligations of the lawyer. Prof.Cond.R.
5.3(a). A lawyer is responsible for the activities of a nonlawyer who engages in conduct
on behalf of the lawyer that, if performed by the lawyer, would violate the Rules of
Professional Conduct, and if the lawyer “orders or, with the knowledge of the specific
conduct, ratifies the conduct.” Prof.Cond.R. 5.3(c).
In order to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer involved in
this type of referral service should verify that the nonlawyers of the company are not
engaging in the practice of law, as the lawyer could be responsible for assisting in the
unauthorized practice of law. Prof.Cond.R. 5.5(a); Gov.Bar R. VII. “A lawyer must make
reasonable efforts to ensure the services are provided in a manner compatible with the
lawyer’s professional obligations.” Prof.Cond.R. 5.3, cmt. .
Independent Professional Judgment of a Lawyer
Under the proposed business model, the company, not the lawyer, controls nearly
every aspect of the attorney-client relationship, from beginning to end. The company,
not the lawyer, defines the type of services offered, the scope of the representation, and
the fees charged. The model is antithetical to the core components of the client-lawyer
relationship because the lawyer’s exercise of independent professional judgment on
behalf of the client is eviscerated.
Page 4 of 7Op. 2016-3 4
Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer is responsible for approving,
or tacitly approving, actions that involve the lawyer’s practice of law. Prof.Cond.R. 5.4
outlines the professional independence of a lawyer and contains traditional limitations
on nonlawyer involvement in the practice of law.
Prof.Cond.R. 5.4(c) prohibits a lawyer from allowing a person who recommends,
employs or pays the lawyer to render legal services for another to direct or regulate the
lawyer’s professional judgment in rendering such legal services. This rule ensures the
lawyer will abide by the client’s decisions concerning the objective of the representation
and will serve the interests of the client, and not those of a third party. Although an
exception exists for a lawyer’s participation in attorney referral services registered with
the Supreme Court of Ohio, a lawyer may not participate in any lawyer referral service
or other type of activity that interferes with the lawyer’s exercise of professional
judgment in handling a client’s case. Prof.Cond.R. 5.4(c), (d)(3).
A lawyer must be cautious when considering a referral service that makes
decisions that are clearly within the scope of the lawyer’s exercise of professional
judgment on behalf of a client. Decisions such as setting limits on the amount of time a
lawyer must spend on each client’s case, specifying a number of cases that a lawyer must
agree to handle, limiting the scope of a lawyer’s representation of a client, or generally
directing a lawyer’s representation of a client are all decisions that a lawyer is duty-bound
to make. Moreover, many of these decisions must be made in consultation with the client,
and not at the direction or control of a third-party referral service.
Fees and Fee Splitting
The proposed business model contains potential violations of the Rules of
Professional Conduct where the client pays the fee in advance to the referral service, but
payment is made to the lawyer by the referral service only after the representation is
completed. This arrangement appears to make the fee contingent upon the outcome of
the matter, which is prohibited in certain instances under Prof.Cond.R. 1.5(c), (d). Such
an arrangement implicates prohibitions on fee-splitting with nonlawyers under
Prof.Cond.R. 5.4(a). Additionally, a situation where a third-party is receiving and
holding client funds may be contrary to a lawyer’s duty to hold client funds in trust under
The Supreme Court of Ohio has disciplined lawyers for sharing fees with
nonlawyers. In Cincinnati Bar Assn. v. Mullaney, 2008-Ohio-4541, ¶ 21, three lawyers were
disciplined for sharing legal fees with nonlawyers by accepting a portion of the fees paid
Page 5 of 7Op. 2016-3 5
to a company that purported to serve homeowners threatened with foreclosure. The
company told prospective customers that a lawyer and legal services would be furnished
to them as part of the fee. In Disciplinary Counsel v. Stranke, 2006-Ohio-4357, a lawyer was
suspended for sharing fees with a bankruptcy counseling firm that solicited and referred
clients to him. In Cleveland Bar Assn. v. Nosan, 2006-Ohio-163, a lawyer was suspended
for sharing fees with debt-counseling company that advertised for clients and provided
the lawyer with office space and support staff.
Even where a business model states that it does not engage in impermissible fee
splitting because the fees are separated into two different transactions or are called a
“marketing fee” or similar term, fee splitting with a nonlawyer likely occurs. Such fees
are not traditional advertising fees, as outlined in Adv.Op. 2001-2. Unlike advertising
fees that are fixed amounts and paid for a fixed period of time, these “marketing fees”
are a percentage of the fee generated on each legal service completed by the lawyer.
Therefore, a fee-splitting arrangement that is dependent on the number of clients
obtained or the legal fee earned does not comport with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Similar fee arrangements should be examined closely by a lawyer before participating in
Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, a client must be advised in writing that
if the lawyer does not complete the representation for any reason, the client may be
entitled to a refund of all or part of the fee, as required by Prof.Cond.R. 1.5(d). Where a
company, not the lawyer, determines whether a dissatisfied client receives a refund,
without mention as to whether the client is advised in writing about a refund, the conduct
of the lawyer violates the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Advertising and Marketing
In the proposed business model, the lawyer lacks control over the content of the
advertising, to whom it is sent, and how it is disseminated to prospective clients.
Moreover, the company does not advertise on behalf of a particular lawyer, but rather
advertises the service of the company. A lawyer must ensure that all communications
and advertising made on his or her behalf are accurate and do not mislead or create
unjustified expectations. Prof.Cond.R. 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3. A lawyer is ethically responsible
to ensure that any services provided by a third party comply with the Rules of
Professional Conduct, and cannot simply rely on the information provided by the
company as insulation against potential ethical violations.
Page 6 of 7Op. 2016-3 6
In Ohio, a lawyer is prohibited from giving anything of value to a person for
recommending a lawyer’s services. Prof.Cond.R. 7.2(c). A lawyer may pay for
advertising, but may not pay another person or a for-profit entity to channel professional
work for the lawyer. Prof.Cond.R. 7.2(c). A lawyer cannot solicit clients if a significant
motive in doing so is pecuniary gain. Prof.Cond.R. 7.3(a).
The Board previously issued an advisory opinion that distinguished advertising
fees from referral fees. Adv.Op. 2001-2. The opinion identifies the following factors in
determining whether a fee is a for advertising services or for providing a referral: 1) if
the lawyer is required to pay an amount of money based on an actual number of people
who contact or hire the lawyer, or an amount based on the percentage of the fee obtained
from rendering the legal services; 2) if the third party will provide services that go beyond
the ministerial function of placing the lawyer’s information into public view; or 3) if the
third party will not clarify that the information is an advertisement, but rather, makes the
information regarding the lawyer appear as if the third party is referring or
recommending the lawyer, or that the lawyer is part of the third party’s services to its
When considering participating in a referral service similar to the proposed
business model, a lawyer should ensure that it operates in a manner consistent with
Adv.Op. 2001-2, as well as the Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyer
advertising and communications with third parties.
Other Rules of Professional Conduct
The proposed business model also implicates several other Rules of Professional
Conduct that should be considered when a lawyer is evaluating whether to participate in
such a service. At the most fundamental level, a lawyer is required to provide competent
representation to a client. Prof.Cond.R. 1.1. A lawyer participating in a lawyer referral
service, like the model or similar models, must ensure that he or she is competent to
handle referrals in the areas of law listed on the website, is able to reject matters outside
of the lawyer’s areas of competence, and has the ability to limit the volume of matters to
a size that the lawyer can competently handle in compliance with Prof.Cond.R. 1.1.
Prof.Cond.R. 1.6(a) requires a lawyer to maintain confidentiality of information
relating to the representation of a client. A lawyer must be aware of confidentiality issues
that may arise while participating in a lawyer referral service, and ensure that the client’s
confidences are preserved in accordance with Prof.Cond.R. 1.6. A lawyer may not
Page 7 of 7Op. 2016-3 7
participate in a service that requires disclosure of information relating to the
representation except as permitted or required by Prof.Cond.R. 1.6.
A lawyer owes duties to a prospective client “. . . who consults with a lawyer about
the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship . . . .” Prof.Cond.R. 1.18. A lawyer
who learns information from a prospective client, even if a lawyer-client relationship
never forms, is not permitted to use or reveal the information except as permitted under
Prof.Cond.R. 1.9. Prof.Cond.R. 1.18(b). If the referral service requires a lawyer to consult
with a client before a client-lawyer relationship is formed, then the lawyer must ensure
compliance with his or her duties to that prospective client.
CONCLUSION: A lawyer should carefully evaluate the operation of a lawyer referral
service to ensure that the lawyer’s participation in the referral service is consistent with
the ethical requirements of the lawyer. Foremost, a lawyer must ensure that his or her
participation in the referral service is consistent with the core obligations and duties owed
to clients. The lawyer also must ensure that relationships with nonlawyers are conducted
in accord with the Rules of Professional Conduct and that the marketing or advertising
services provided on the lawyer’s behalf are proper. Additionally, fees tied specifically
to the number of individual clients represented or the amount of a legal fee is not
permissible, unless the lawyer referral service is registered with the Supreme Court of
Advisory Opinions of the Board of Professional Conduct are informal, nonbinding
opinions in response to prospective or hypothetical questions regarding the
application of the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio, the
Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Judiciary, the Rules of Professional
Conduct, the Code of Judicial Conduct, and the Attorney’s Oath of Office.
Op_16-003.pdfPage 2 of 7
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RULE XVI. LAWYER REFERRAL AND INFORMATION SERVICES; LEGAL SERVICES PLANS
Section 1. Requirements for Lawyer Referral and Information Services.(A)A lawyer referral and information service operating in Ohio shall comply with all of the following:(1)Operate in the public interest for the purpose of referring prospective clients to lawyers, pro bono and public service programs, and government, consumer, or other agencies who can provide the assistance the clients need in light of their financial circumstance, spoken language, any disability, geographical convenience, and the nature and complexity of their problem;(2)Call itself a lawyer referral service or a lawyer referral and information service;(3)Be open to all lawyers who are licensed and admitted to the practice of law in Ohio, who maintain an office in the geographical area to be served by the service, and who meet reasonable, objectively determined experience requirements established by the service, pay the reasonable registration and membership fees established by the service, and maintain in force a policy of errors and omissions insurance in an amount established by the service;(4)Establish rules that prohibit lawyer members of the service from charging prospective clients to whom a client is referred, fees and or costs that exceed charges the client would have incurred had no lawyer referral service been involved; (5)Establish procedures to survey periodically clients referred to determine client satisfaction with its operations and to investigate and take appropriate action with respect to client complaints against lawyer members of the service, and the service and its employees;(6)Establish procedures for admitting, suspending, or removing lawyers from its roll of panelists and promulgate rules that prohibit the making of a fee generating referral to any lawyer who has an ownership interest in, or who operates or is employed by the lawyer referral service, or who is associated with a law firm that has an ownership interest in, or operates or is employed by the lawyer referral service;(7)Establish subject-matter panels, eligibility for which shall be determined on the basis of experience and other substantial, objectively determinable criteria;(8)As a condition of participation in the referral service, not place limits on the lawyer’s selection of co-counsel to other lawyers listed with the referral service;(9)Not make a fee-generating referral to any lawyer who has an ownership interest in or who operates or is employed by the lawyer referral service or who is associated with a law firm that has an ownership interest in or operates or is employed by a lawyer referral service;
(B) Ninety days before a new service begins operations, it shall register with the Supreme Court Office of Attorney Services by completing and filing a registration form prescribed by the Office. On or before the first day of March each year, the service shall file an annual report withthe Supreme Court Office of Attorney Services. The report shall contain information regarding the activity of the service for the preceding calendar year and shall be filed on a form prescribed by the Office.(C) A lawyer referral and information service operating in Ohio may require lawyers participating in the service to do one or more of the following:(1)Pay a fee calculated as a percentage of legal fees earned by any lawyer panelist to whom the lawyer referral service has referred a matter, in addition to payment of a membership or registration fee as provided in division (A)(3) of this section. The income from the percentage fee shall be used only to pay the reasonable operating expenses of the service and to fund public service activities of the service or its sponsoring organization, including the delivery of pro bono public services;(2)Submit any fee disputes with a referred client to mandatory fee arbitration; (3)Participate in moderate and no-fee panels and other special panels established by the service that respond to the referral needs of the consumer public, eligibility for which shall be determined on the basis of experience and other substantial objectively determinable criteria.Section 2.Conditions for Participating in a Lawyer Referral Service.(A)Each lawyer referral and information service shall include the following provisions in its application or agreement governing participation in the lawyer referral and information service:(1)Each attorney-member of the service shall maintain professional liability insurance in the minimum amounts of one hundred thousand dollars per occurrence and three hundred thousand dollars in the aggregate. The service shall require the attorney-member to provide proof of insurance on an annual basis in the form of a copy of the current policy declarations page.(2)An attorney-member shall be suspended from further participation in the service under any of the following circumstances: (a)The attorney-member is disbarred or suspended from the practice of law;(b)Any grievance proceeding against the attorney-member results in a determination of probable cause;(c)The attorney-member is named in a criminal indictment, information, or complaint that charges a crime involving moral turpitude or dishonesty.
(3)Each attorney-member shall promptly notify the service, in writing, if the attorney-member is not in full compliance with the terms of the service’s referral agreement, is notified of a probable cause determination in a grievance proceeding against the attorney-member, is named in a criminal indictment, information, or complaint that charges a crime involving moral turpitude or dishonesty, or if any information in the attorney-member’s application to become a member of the service is not true and correct in any respect.(4)Each attorney-member shall waive the right of confidentiality granted pursuant to Gov. Bar R. V, Section 8 to the extent necessary to permit the service to be informed or inquire as to the existence of any grievance proceeding against the attorney-member that results in a determination of probable cause.(5)The service and each attorney-member shall agree to participate in arbitration or mediation in an effort to settle fee disputes that may arise between the service and attorney-member, as a result of referrals made by the service to the attorney-member. Division (A)(5) of this section shall not apply to fee disputes between an attorney-member and his or her client.(B)The requirements set forth in this rule represent minimum standards applicable to each lawyer referral and information service. A service may impose on its attorney-members more restrictive provisions, including, but not limited to any of the following:(1)Additional grounds for suspension from further participation in the service;(2)Additional requirements regarding notice of pending grievance proceedings;(3)The waiver of confidentiality granted pursuant to Gov. Bar R. V, Section 8 prior to a determination of probable cause.(C) As used in this section, “probable cause” has the same meaning as used in Gov. Bar R. V, Section 35. Section 3.Disclosure of Information for Reporting Purposes.Each attorney participating in a lawyer referral service may give written notice to his or her client informing the client that the attorney may be required to disclose to the service that referred the client certain information regarding the client’s case. The notice shall describe the information that may be reported, including, but not limited to the current status of the client’s case and the amount of the attorney’s fee, and indicate that the disclosure is required in order for the service to satisfy its reporting requirements to the Supreme Court Office of Attorney Services. The notice shall be similar in substance to the following:ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF UNDERSTANDING Pursuant to the reporting requirements set forth by the Supreme Court Office of Attorney Services, I understand and acknowledge that (insert Attorney’s Name), my attorney, may be required to release and report to (insert name of the Lawyer Referral Service), the lawyer referral service that recommended my attorney’s services to me, pertinent information regarding my case, which may include the current status of my case and the amount of the attorney’s fees. I further acknowledge that by signing this document, the disclosure policy applicable to my case has been fully explained to me and that all of my questions have been answered regarding this matter._________________________________ Client’s SignatureSection 4. Application. Sections 1 to 3 of this rule shall not apply to any of the following:(A)A plan of prepaid legal services insurance authorized to operate in Ohio or a group or prepaid legal plan, whether operated by a union, trust, mutual benefit or aid association, corporation or other entity or person, that provides unlimited or a specified amount of telephone advice or personal communications at no charge, other than a periodic membership or beneficiary fee, to the members or beneficiaries and furnishes to or pays for legal services for its members or beneficiaries;(B)Individual, attorney-to-attorney referrals;(C) Attorneys jointly advertising their services in a manner disclosing that the advertising is solely to solicit clients for themselves; (D)Any pro bono legal assistance program that does not accept fees from attorneys or clients for referral.Section 5.Legal Service Plans.Any bona fide organization that recommends, furnishes, or pays for legal services to its members or beneficiaries shall satisfy all of the following: (A)The organization, including any affiliate, is organized and operated so that no profit is derived by it from the rendition of legal services by lawyers, and that, if the organization is organized for profit, the legal services are not rendered by lawyers employed, directed, supervised, or selected by it except in connection with matters where the organization bears ultimate liability of its member or beneficiary.(B)Neither the lawyer, the lawyer’s partner, associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm, nor any nonlawyer, shall have initiated or promoted the organization for the primary purpose of providing financial or other benefit to the lawyer, partner, associate, or affiliated lawyer.
(C) The organization is not operated for the purpose of procuring legal work or financial benefit for any lawyer as a private practitioner outside of the legal services program of the organization. (D)The member or beneficiary to whom the legal services are furnished, and not the organization, is recognized as the client of the lawyer in the matter.(E)Any member or beneficiary who is entitled to have legal services furnished or paid for by the organization, if such member or beneficiary so desires, may select counsel other than that furnished, selected, or approved by the organization; provided, however, that the organization shall be under no obligation to pay for the legal services furnished by the attorney selected by the beneficiary unless the terms of the legal services plan specifically provide for payment.(F)Any member or beneficiary may assert a claim that representation by counsel furnished, selected, or approved by the organization would be unethical, improper, or inadequate under the circumstances of the matter involved. The plan shall provide for adjudication of a claim under division (E) of this section and appropriate relief through substitution of counsel or providing that the beneficiary may select counsel and the organization shall pay for the legal services rendered by selected counsel to the extent that such services are covered under the plan and in an amount equal to the cost that would have been incurred by the plan if the plan had furnished designated counsel. (G)The lawyer does not know or have cause to know that the organization is in violation of applicable laws, rules of court, and other legal requirements that govern its operations. (H)The organization has filed with the Supreme Court Office of Attorney Services, on or before the first day of March each year, a report with respect to its legal service plan, if any, showing its terms, its schedule of benefits, its subscription charges, agreements with counsel, and financial results of its legal service activities.[Effective: April 16, 1996; amended effective February 1, 2007; April 30, 2007; January 1, 2015.]