New York’s ethics board’s opinion follows New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina and Pennsylvania in stating that Avvo and LegalZoom along with other such online legal service providers violate New York’s rules of professional conduct. The New York ethics board states that the ‘marketing fee’ is actually a ‘referral fee’ in violation of Rule 7.2(a) of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct.
Rule 7.2(a) also prohibits the reasonable impression that a lawyer is being recommended. The ethics board concluded that Avvo’s various indirect quality statements on its website created the impression that the attorneys are recommended by Avvo. The Avvo website has attorney ratings and promotes the benefit of working with highly rated local lawyers. It goes on to state that Avvo only works with highly qualified lawyers. The website also provides a satisfaction guarantee.
Avvo two legal services website products are Avvo Advisor and Avvo Legal Services. Prospective clients pay a flat fee for a 15-minute phone conversation with a lawyer though Avvo Advisor. With Avvo Legal Services prospective clients purchase specific services, such as an uncontested divorce, for a flat fee.
Attorneys should check with their state and local ethics boards before contracting with similar on line referral services. While some states allow these ‘referrals’, many are following a growing list of states to prohibit such referral services.