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About public policy

     To provide the best free service to the public and make a living while doing so,

while minimizing our legal responsibilities, and liabilities, much research in needed.

So starting here -

We are currently reviewing the American Bar Association and

each States Governing bodies we can find, to learn about, such as, ethics, opinions,

decisions, laws, restrictions, and other concerns, or obstacles we can, or may find, 

on a wide range of matters including:


1. Are we considered a "lawyer referral service" ?

2. How do we change to reclassify our service if needed.

3. What our restrictions and responsibilities may be depending, on our classification.

4. How do we stay in the less regulated - Broader definition of -

“Qualifying provider” including:

Directories -

On-line matching services -

Group or pooled advertising programs -

4. What our members or potential members restrictions and responsibilities, may be, per state.


Learn more, as we learn more.  See menu item: State Legal Directory.

We are studying the following, and will model our service best, to conform most comfortably,

easy, with less restrictions, liabilities, obstacles, and responsibilities, from what we learn 

at the American Bar Association and each State:


Found at Florida: http://www.floridabar.org/proposedlrsamend
OVERALL CHANGES TO RULE
Terminology
“Qualifying Provider” instead of “lawyer referral service”
Some states prohibit for-profit lawyer referral services
States that prohibit
for-profit lawyer referral services define them differently than Florida
– some on-line matching services are not considered referral services
in some states.

Broader definition of “qualifying provider” including:
Directories
On-line matching services
Group or pooled advertising programs
Tips or leads programs


ABA -

Model Supreme Court Rules Governing Lawyer Referral & Information Service

Introduction Lawyer referral services have been in operation in this country,

for more than 50 years, and were first established in response to requests by middle
income persons for assistance in obtaining appropriate legal counsel.
Lawyer Referral and Information Services are designed to assist persons
who are able to pay normal attorney fees but whose ability to locate
appropriate legal representation is frustrated by a lack of experience
with the legal system, a lack of information about the type of service
needed, or a fear of the potential costs of seeing a lawyer. Lawyer
referral programs offer two important services to the public. First,
they help the client determine if the problem is truly of a legal nature
by screening inquiries and referring the client to other service
agencies when appropriate. The second, and perhaps more important,
function of a lawyer referral service is to provide the client with an
unbiased referral to an attorney who has experience in the area of law
appropriate to the client's needs. The public has come to equate the
function of lawyer referral programs with consumer-oriented assistance,
and expects that the loyalty of the program will lie with the consumer,
and only secondarily with the participating attorney.


    In 1989, following a long review process by state and local bar association and
lawyer referral experts from both the public and private sector, the
American Bar Association adopted Model Rules for the operation of public
service lawyer referral programs. The overriding concern of the Model
Rules is consumer protection.The aspirational standards used
previously at the state and local level were simply not sufficient to
ensure the public service orientation of some private, for-profit
services; strong and enforceable regulations were needed to achieve
minimal standards for all lawyer referral services. However, while the
Rules must be strong to be effective, we have been mindful of the need
to allow legitimate public service-oriented attorneys and providers to
operate without undue interference. In drafting the Model Rules, we have
done our best to balance these considerations. These Rules are designed
to provide a level playing field for all programs, whether private or
bar-sponsored. Each state is urged to examine its rules, decisions and
opinions in order to utilize the Model Rules in a manner consistent with
its own law.These Model Rules have also been drafted in legislative form,

for states where lawyers are regulated by the Legislature.SUMMARY OF

REQUIREMENTS FOR LAWYER REFERRAL SERVICES BASED UPON

"MODEL SUPREME COURT RULES GOVERNING LAWYER REFERRAL

SERVICES"ADOPTED BY ABA HOUSE OF DELEGATES 8/93A
qualified service shall be operated in the public interest and shall
provide information regarding government and consumer agencies which may
assist the client, as well as provide referrals to lawyers, pro bono
programs and other legal service providers. The service may be privately
owned so long as the primary purpose is public service. Membership
in the service should be open to all licensed attorneys in the
geographical area served who meet the requirements of the service
outline below. Charges for membership in the service must be reasonable.
Membership may not be restricted by the particular geographical areas
or subject areas. The service must require its members to maintain

malpractice insurance or to provide proof of financial responsibility.The
combined fees and expenses charged to a client by a service and the
lawyer to whom the client is referred shall not exceed the combined fees
and expenses the client would have incurred if no referral service were
employed.


    No fee generating referral may be made to any lawyer
who has an ownership in, who operates, or who is employed by the
service, or to their law firm. Referrals may be made to lawyers who are
members of the board or governing committee of the service so long as
they do not receive any preferential treatment. The service must
periodically survey client satisfaction with its operations and shall
investigate and take appropriate action regarding any complaints against
panelists, the service or its employees. The survey may be by mail or
by phone and need not involve every client. The service must
establish procedures for the admission, suspension or removal of a
lawyer from any panel. The procedures must be clearly articulated in the
service's materials. The procedure may include peer review, but other
procedures are permissible. The procedure must include an appeal
process. Subject to the rules of the service's jurisdiction, the
service may, in addition to a referral fee, receive a percentage of the
fee earned by the lawyer to whom a referral is made. Any such fees
received may be used only for the reasonable operating expenses of the
service or the fund public service activities of the service or its
sponsoring organization. The service must establish subject
matter panels and establish minimum requirements for eligibility. The
number of subject panels necessary will vary from service to service
depending upon the needs of the community served. Requirements for
eligibility should include sufficient experience to ensure that the
lawyer is qualified in the field of practice. The service should require
proof of compliance with the requirements so established, which may
include certification in affidavit or affirmation form.


MODEL SUPREME COURT RULES GOVERNING LAWYER REFERRAL

AND INFORMATION SERVICES Rule I--
Lawyers eligible to practice in this state may participate in a service
which refers them to prospective clients, but only if the service
conforms to these Rules ("a qualified service").

Commentary.

The lawyer referral mechanism was originally created to help the public
identify the best method, whether legal or non-legal, for resolving
disputes and protecting important rights. Special programs provided much
needed assistance specifically for the poor, and the wealthy had the
means and ability to secure appropriate counsel. It was harder for
middle income persons, fearful about the cost and quality of available
legal services, to know where and how to find the most appropriate
assistance for legal problems.


Public service lawyer referral programs helped to fill the information void in

a responsible and unbiased manner, and at a reasonable cost. The public

has come to rely on the objective nature of the assistance provided by lawyer

referral programs. Recently, with the advent of private, for-profit referral
services, the flow of information to the public has increased, but
questions have been raised about whether this information continues to
be objective and unbiased. It is for this reason, as well as those
articulated elsewhere in these rules, that regulation is desirable.


Rule II--
A qualified service shall be operated in the public interest for the
purpose of referring prospective clients to lawyers, pro bono and public
service legal programs, and government, consumer or other agencies who
can provide the assistance the clients need in light of their financial
circumstances, spoken language, any disability, geographical
convenience, and the nature and complexity of their problems.

Commentary.

The intent of this rule is to articulate the public service requirement of
lawyer referral programs. While it does not preclude private services
from operating, this statement does establish the primacy of a public
service intent. Section 1.6 of the American Bar Association's (ABA)
Statement of Standards and Practices for a Lawyer Referral and
Information Service, approved February, 1984, by the ABA House of
Delegates, states "The Service should be operated for the benefit of the
public. It should be readily accessible and its existence should be
made known to the public to the greatest extent possible."As
vital as lawyer referral is, the information provided by programs -
about, for example, lawyers, the legal system in general, the
availability of legal services, and the availability of consumer,
governmental and other agencies that can address the client's problem -
is an equally important public service. Services should provide both
lawyer referrals and this type of information. 


Rule III--
Only a qualified service may call itself a lawyer referral service, or
operate for a direct or indirect purpose of referring potential clients
to particular lawyers, whether or not the term "referral service" is
used.

Commentary:

These definitions are similar to the California statute and New York proposed

court rules. While California currently regulates use of the term "referral service,"
this rule establishes more clearly that it encompasses any entity operating to

make referrals. Before the rules on lawyer advertising were relaxed, lawyer

referral services were operated primarily as a public service to provide informed

access to the legal system. With the onset of widespread advertising, and the

exemption of lawyer referral services from the ordinary prohibitions against
splitting fees with attorneys, it has become important to develop a
broad definition of lawyer referral services for regulatory purposes.


Rule IV--
A qualified service must be open to all lawyers licensed and eligible
to practice in this state who maintain an office within the geographical
area served, and who:(1) meet reasonable objectively determinable experience

requirements established by the service;(2) pay reasonable registration and

membership fees not to exceed an amount established by the

(State Bar Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Services),

hereinafter "the Committee", to encourage widespread lawyer participation; and

(3) maintain in force a policy  of errors and omissions insurance, or provide

proof of financial responsibility, in an amount at least equal to the minimum

established by the Committee.Commentary. This rule is designed to limit panel

membership to attorneys who are licensed and in good standing with the

attorney regulatory entity in a given state.


It also notably requires that panel membership be open to all attorneys
who wish to join, provided that they are located in the geographic area
served and satisfy those requirements set forth therein. Under no
circumstances should a service close a panel by selling or allocating
designated geographical areas or areas of practice to a limited number
of individuals based on their ability to pay a fee to the service.
However, where it can be demonstrated to the Committee by objective
criteria that unlimited panel membership undermines legitimate consumer
interests because of numbers of lawyers leaving a panel due to
historically limited referral potential, then a service may want to
amend Rule IV by adding language which protects the service but does not
open the door to the abuses noted above. Such language might read, "For
good cause shown and within strict guidelines, ________ (the Committee)
may approve a reasonable limitation on the number of lawyers to be
enrolled on a panel at a service, provided such limitation is in the
public interest.

"The purpose of subsection

(1) is to mandate that each service require lawyers who are referred cases

in particular subject matter areas to have an appropriate level of experience

in these areas. The criteria to be used in determining such requirements are
more fully set forth in the Commentary to Rule X.


Subsection (2) should be used in those states which deem it appropriate,

and where it is consistent with the rules of professional conduct and the

statutory and decisional law of that jurisdiction.

ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2 prohibits giving anything of

value to one who recommends the lawyer's services except, among others,

"the usual charges of a not-for-profit lawyer referral service...." Many states
have interpreted this and other similar provisions in both court
decisions and ethics opinions. Each state is urged to examine these
rules, decisions and opinions in order to utilize the model rule in a
manner consistent with its own law. Note: Blanks followed by
parenthetical material ( ) identify places where insertions should be
made to tailor these rules to each individual state.


The intent of
subsection (3) is to ensure that, in the event errors are made by the
participating attorney, the client has redress through the attorney's
policy of insurance. The requirement is contained in the ABA's Minimum
Quality Standards. Only by requiring such insurance, or a showing
of financial responsibility, can a client's needs best be satisfied. In
states where referral services are not immune from lawsuits for
negligent referral, this requirement will help protect the service from
such suits; in states where such immunity exists, it ensures that a
client may find redress against the principal negligent party, the
attorney.


Rule V-- The
combined fees and expenses charged a prospective client by a qualified
service and a lawyer to whom the client is referred shall not exceed the
total charges which the client would have incurred had no referral
service been involved.


Commentary The
intent of this rule is to ensure that the client shall not be
economically disadvantaged in any respect because the client has decided
to utilize a lawyer referral service. A very similar provision is
contained in the California Minimum Standards for a Lawyer Referral
Service.Simply put, clients should not have to pay more for
services obtained through the lawyer referral service than they would if
they obtained the services on their own. ABA Model Rule of Professional
Conduct 7.2 states that a lawyer cannot pay more than the "usual charge
of a not-for-profit lawyer referral service or other legal service
organization" in exchange for a referral. 


Rule VI--
No fee generating referral may be made to any lawyer who has an
ownership interest in, or who operates or is employed by, a qualified
service, or who is associated with a law firm which has an ownership
interest in, or operates or is employed by, a qualified service.


Commentary The
intent of this rule is to prevent the temptation of using the referral
service to refer cases to oneself, rather than to serve the clients'
needs. The important goal of unbiased referrals (see ABA Minimum Quality
Standards for Lawyer Referral Services, approved August 1989, by the
ABA House of Delegates) is thus maintained. See also the California
statute, which sets self-referral levels. Since the purpose of
lawyer referral is to provide the client with the best option for a
specific legal need, the referral service which makes referrals to its
owners or operators is in constant danger of, intentionally or
unintentionally, referring the most desirable cases in-house, without
considering the client's needs first. This potential for a conflict of
interest between the service and the client's needs must be avoided. The
rule provides the most reliable method of maintaining unbiased
referrals.

Membership on a Board or lawyer referral committee of a
sponsoring bar association should not, in and of itself, exclude a
lawyer from accepting referrals, provided the referral service maintains
adequate safeguards against preferential treatment of these lawyers.


Rule VII--
A qualified service shall periodically survey client satisfaction with
its operations and shall investigate and take appropriate action with
respect to client complaints against panelists, the service, and its
employees.

Commentary-

The intent of this
rule is to help ensure that the referral service is truly meeting the
needs of the public by requiring direct feedback from the users of the
service. A similar requirement is found in the ABA's Minimum Quality
Standards. However, this rule does not mean that every client must be
included in a survey. It is recognized that in certain situations the
direct mailing of a survey may not be in the best interest of the
client, and that discretion should be used, for example with domestic
violence or health and substance abuse issues.


Rule VIII--
A qualified service shall establish and publish a procedure for
admitting, suspending or removing lawyers from its roll of panelists.
Any lawyer adversely affected by the decision of the service may appeal
to the Committee.

Commentary -The intent of
this rule is to require rules to ensure that, as a public service,
providing qualified and quality representation must be a priority of any
referral service. These provisions are similar to both the ABA Minimum
Quality Standards and the California Minimum Standards currently in
force. Without rigidly defining what the procedures must be, this
provision acknowledges the need for each referral service to establish
procedures for admission, suspension and removal of panel attorneys.
These procedures must be clearly articulated to: assure the public that a
mechanism exists for responding to client complaints and potential
instances of misconduct by panel attorneys; ensure due process for the
parties involved; and protect the confidences and secrets of clients of
those attorneys. This includes a duty to investigate client complaints
against participating attorneys.


Rule IX--
A qualified service may, in addition to any referral fee, charge a fee
calculated as a percentage of legal fees earned by any lawyer panelist
to whom the service has referred a matter. The income from any such
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 legal services.


Commentary - This
section should be used in those states which deem it appropriate, and
where it is consistent with the rules of professional conduct and the
statutory and decisional law of that jurisdiction.ABA policy has
long prohibited the division of fees for legal services. See ABA Canons
of Professional Ethics No. 34 (1928). The policy against sharing a legal
fee with a non-lawyer is embodied in the ABA's Model Code of
Professional Responsibility DR 3-102 and Model Rules of Professional
Conduct Rule 5.4(a).

Two ABA ethics opinions have approved
financing of bar association sponsored lawyer referral services by
charging a reasonable percentage of fees. See Formal Opinion 291 (1956)
and Informal Opinion 1076 (1968). Opinions in several states have
adopted similar reasoning in permitting payment of percentage fees to
either bar sponsored or general non-profit lawyer referral services.ABA
Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2 prohibits giving anything of
value to one who recommends the lawyer's services except, among others,
"the usual charges of a not-for-profit lawyer referral service...." Many
states have interpreted this and other similar provisions in both court
decisions and ethics opinions. Each state is urged to examine these
rules, decisions and opinions in order to utilize the model statute in a
manner consistent with its own law. Each state is urged to
examine its rules, decisions and opinions in order to utilize the model
rule in a manner consistent with its own law. Some states may believe
that this restriction on lawyer fee sharing is adequate to address the
public interest involved. In other jurisdictions, where it is perceived
that there is a need not only to regulate the practice of lawyers but
also to regulate the business practices of lawyer referral services,
additional regulation may be necessary.


Rule X--
A qualified service shall establish specific subject matter panels, and
may establish moderate and no fee panels, foreign language panels,
alternative dispute resolution panels and other special panels which
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.

Commentary -

This requirement is similar to one contained in the ABA's Minimum

Quality Standards.

The California legislation required the establishment of specific panels
"representing different areas of law and limited to attorneys who meet
reasonable participation requirements ..." (see Minimum Standards for a
Lawyer Referral Service in California, Rule 7.2). The New York State Bar
Association's Proposed Minimum Standards are similar to the California
legislation. (See Proposed Minimum Standards, Section 6.2, contained in
"Report of the Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services
Regulations," New York State Bar Association, June 1990.)The
importance of establishing meaningful experience requirements cannot be
underestimated. It is inappropriate for a service to simply refer a
caller to the next lawyer on the list without determining that the
lawyer is qualified in the field of practice in which legal services are
needed. Since the public relies on services to provide qualified legal
representation which improves on what the consumer can obtain by lot, it
is incumbent upon these services to ensure that their attorneys have
substantially more qualifications than mere bar membership."Experience"
is not intended to mean "expertise" or "specialization," nor should it
be defined merely by length of time in practice. See ABA Statement of
Standards section 5.2,

Comment -

Rather, the goal is to ensure, in the
words of this Comment, that both the subject matter panels and the
qualification standards shall "meet the needs and reasonable
expectations of the community served." In meeting these needs,
"consideration should also be given to the panel member's experience
with particular kinds of cases," and to "requiring a certain amount of
recent actual experience.


"Rule XI--
The operation of these Rules and compliance with their provisions shall
be supervised by a (Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and
Information Services) to be appointed by the (State Bar). The
(Committee) shall develop and promulgate rules, regulations, procedures
and forms to discharge its obligations not inconsistent with these Rules
and subject to approval by the (State Bar Board of Governors). The
(Committee) may submit to the (State Bar Board of Governors)
recommendations for changes in these Rules for transmission to the Court.


Commentary -

The intent of this rule
is to establish the regulatory entity which is charged with overseeing
qualified services, and to allow this regulatory entity to adopt its own
rules and regulations for oversight purposes. This is similar to the
legislative mandate which required the State Bar of California to adopt
extensive Minimum Standards.Each state will determine, based on
its legislative, judicial or state bar regulatory authority over the
practice of law, the composition of the regulatory entity which will
oversee lawyer referral services.


Rule XII-- A qualified service shall

(1) register with the (Committee) and demonstrate its compliance with

these Rules before commencing to operate;

(2) update the materials filed with the (Committee) within 30 days of any

material change; and

(3) (annually) file with the (Committee) a report of its operations and
finances during the previous (year) demonstrating its continued
compliance with these Rules.


Rule XIII-- These Rules do not apply to

(1) a group or prepaid legal plan, whether operated by a union, trust,
mutual benefit or aid association, corporation, or other entity or
person, which

(a) provides unlimited or a specified amount of telephone advice or

personal communication at no charge to the members or beneficiaries,

other than a periodic membership or beneficiary fee, and
(b) furnishes or pays for legal services to its members or beneficiaries;

(2) a plan of prepaid legal services insurance authorized to operate in the state;

(3) individual lawyer-to-lawyer referrals;

(4) lawyers jointly advertising their own services in a manner which discloses

that such advertising is solely to solicit clients for them selves; or

(5) any pro bono legal assistance program which does not accept fees from

lawyers or clients for referrals.

Commentary -

These exclusions are all for services which are, like lawyer referral
services, designed to promote the accessibility of legal services to the
public. Individual referrals from one lawyer to another are part
of the everyday practice of law. Many of these "referrals" are informal
and involve no fee. If a referral fee is involved, the state's relevant
rules of professional conduct should be applied.


Rule XIV--
A disclosure of information to a lawyer referral service for the
purpose of seeking legal assistance shall be deemed a privileged
lawyer-client communication.

Commentary - Since
a client discloses information to a lawyer referral service for the
sole purpose of seeking the assistance of a lawyer, the client's
communication for that purpose should be protected by lawyer-client
privilege.


Rule XV--
The (Committee) or any aggrieved person may seek an injunction in the
Circuit Court to enjoin violations of these Rules. In the event the
injunction is granted, the petitioner shall be entitled to reasonable
costs and attorney fees.

Commentary - The
intent of this rule is to provide that anyone, not merely the regulatory
entity, may move to enjoin unlawful operations of an LRS. This intent
is similar to that in the California law. The current provision is
strengthened over present California law by providing specific authority
for recovery of litigation costs and attorneys fees. It is important to note that,

while "any aggrieved person" may move to enjoin illegal activity, typically

the responsibility for enforcement should fall primarily on the shoulders

of the regulatory entity.

August 1993