Florida Court Changes Rules for Lawyer Referral Services

March 26, 2018 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Florida Court Changes Rules for Lawyer Referral Services

New Florida Bar rules will change how consumers, attorneys, and referral services interact.

New rules regarding lawyer referral services in Florida will go into effect on April 30, after the Florida Supreme Court accepted amendments to rules that govern lawyer referral service. The court issued the ruling on March 8, 2018. The most drastic of the new changes prohibits Florida lawyers from accepting new clients from any referral service who also refers to non-legal professions stemming from the same incident. In short, a lawyer will no longer be able to accept a referral from a service who provides both legal and medical referrals.

411 PAIN and 1-800-ASK-GARY Slammed by New Rule

This is a big blow to the huge companies that have swamped Florida airwaves, like 411 PAIN and 1-800-ASK-GARY, who, in addition to referring clients to lawyers, also refer clients to medical services. The initial report written the by The Florida Bar News, quotes 411-Pain as promising to “act vigorously” to protects its rights. https://youtu.be/hj6GXaVQJgk

Florida Bar Rule 4-7.22

The amendments will effect Florida Bar rule 4-7.22 while also amending or deleting five other rules.
The amendment will also change the rule to cover a broader definition of who is effected. A small amount of research into Rule 4-7.22 of the Florida Bar's website reveals that "Lawyer Referral Service" has been crossed out, replaced by referrals, directories, and pooled advertising. See below.
The new changes also drop the requirement that lawyers participating with qualifying providers carry malpractice insurance.
In all, lawyer referral services will have to start complying with Florida Bar rules if they want to work with a Florida Bar lawyer, a change that is long overdue in Florida's legal system. In its per curiam opinion, the Court stated the proposed rule changes will address the issues surrounding “lawyer participation in ‘matching' and other similar services not currently subject to regulation by the Bar”. From April 30th on, lawyers and lawyer referral services alike, along with directories and other matching services, will have to comply with the new Florida Bar rules or find some other way to make a living.

Florida Bar's History of Trying to Change Referral Rules

In 2015, the Florida Bar filed a petition to change the same lawyer referral service rules after a special committee expressed concern about the potential conflict of interest involved if a lawyer accepted a client from a referral service and then was asked by the client for a referral for medical treatment. The amendment was rejected. An additional rule that required lawyer referral services to be owned and operated by a Florida Bar member was also rejected. However, that move led to the changes that are reflected in the new rules change in terminology: “qualifying provider”.

Not Everyone Agrees with the New Ruling

One of the Justices who participated in the vote, Alan Lawson, wrote that he disagreed with the section of the new rule that bans lawyers from taking clients from services who refer two or more services. His opinion is that only 411 PAIN and Ask Gary will be effected and that not "a single incident of misconduct by those entities or by any lawyer or medical professional who takes referrals from those entities” has been identified. An attorney representing 411-Pain, released a statement stating that the section of the law in question violates "First Amendment advertising rights and would harm lawful, well-established businesses that are vital contributors to their communities.” Of course, by that he means the new law will harm his client's business. Regarding Justice Lawson, it could easily be argued that 411 PAIN and ASK GARY have committed questionable acts in the past that relate to the new rule.

A Breakdown of the Changes

  • The term “lawyer referral service” will be replaced with “qualifying provider”.
  • A qualifying provider is any "person, group of persons, association, organization, or entity that receives any benefit or consideration, monetary or otherwise, for the direct or indirect referral of prospective clients to lawyers or law firms”.
  • The definition of 'qualifying provider” will include
    • Directories
    • On-line matching services
    • Group or pooled advertising programs
    • Tips or leads programs
Among others, the rule will continue to require:
  • Ads from qualifying providers to comply with existing lawyer advertising rules;
  • Qualifying providers may not take a referral fee;
  • Qualifying providers can only match clients to Florida Bar members.
Some previous requirements were deleted, such as:
  • Need to hold malpractice insurance for participating lawyers;
  • Disclaimer in all advertisements that state they are a lawyer referral service;
  • Requirement for lawyers to reveal in advertisements that they pay to participate.
And of course, new requirements were put into place, such as:
  • Preventing qualifying providers from requiring or pressuring lawyers to provide cross referrals;
  • Requiring qualifying providers to give lawyers documentation of compliance with Bar rules;
  • Requing the referral service to name the location of lawyer when the referral is made;
  • Preventing qualifying provider from acting as if they are a law firm, can practice law, or provide legal services.*
Pro bono and voluntary bar lawyer referral services are not included in this amendment. How exactly these changes will affect the industry is yet to be seen, but one can assume that the results will be drastic. The complete rules will be posted on the Florida Bar's website on April 30. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA is a personal injury firm with offices in Clearwater, St Petersburg, New Port Richey, Sarasota, and North Miami. *Points taken from Qualifying Provider Rule page on Florida Bar's website


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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