Florida Supreme Court Adopts New Lawyer Referral Service Rule and Requests Stronger Regulations

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On March 8, 2018, the Supreme Court of Florida adopted amendments to the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar regarding lawyer referral services (Rule 4-7.22). Although the amendments are not as strong as the Court had directed them to be, they are aimed at protecting the public from for-profit referral services. Pursuant to the newly adopted rule, all services that connect clients to lawyers must now conform with the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and comport with public interest.

Moreover, the Florida Supreme Court directed the Bar to submit additional proposed amendments to the rules within 90 days of the opinion. The proposed amendments are to prohibit lawyers from accepting client referrals from services that also refer clients to any other type of professional services for the same incident and prohibit lawyers from referring clients to any other professional services in exchange for the lawyer’s receipt of referrals from any lawyer referral service.

The newly adopted amendments address some concerns raised by the Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services (Special Committee) in its July 2012 Final Report on the potential harm nonlawyer-owned for-profit referral services pose to the public, and the Florida Supreme Court in 2015. In 2012, the Special Committee had concluded in its report that for-profit lawyer referral services, especially those that are not owned or operated by a member of the Bar and work in conjunction with other professionals or occupations, are more likely to violate the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar and participate in activities that do not serve the public interest. In 2015, the Court had rejected proposed amendments by the Bar and directed the Bar to propose amendments that “preclude Florida lawyers from accepting referrals from any lawyer referral service that is not owned or operated by a member of the Bar.”

Despite the Court’s clear directive to the Bar in 2015, the now adopted amendments do not preclude lawyers from accepting referrals from referral services that are not owned or operated by a member of the Bar. Instead, the amendments deal with lawyer participation in “matching” and other similar services that are not currently subject to regulation by the Bar and that connect potential clients with lawyers. Given the Court’s continued concern over how some lawyer referral services operate in Florida, particularly those that refer clients to lawyer and non-lawyer services for a single incident, the Bar was instructed to submit a petition to the Court proposing amendments to rule 4-7.22 to implement rules on point.

Citation: In re Amendments to the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar – Subchapter 4-7 (Lawyer Referral Services), 43 Fla. L. Weekly S125a (Fla. March 8, 2018)

(This post was prepared by Karina D. Rodrigues, Esq. For more information, please contact Karina at kdr@kulaw.com or 954-522-6601).