Legitimate lawyer referral services are supposed to assist consumers in getting paired with an attorney that is capable of handling their specific matter. One could argue that the system is convoluted when two entities act in accordance with each other’s financial interests to fleece an unsophisticated consumer. Most consumers watching ads on television, driving past billboards and listening to radio jingles, are unaware of the relationship between the physicians and lawyers involved in the referral service. If they did, perhaps their choice for medical attention and legal representation would be different. The Florida Bar is considering a change to its rules of Professional Conduct, which could prohibit Florida Attorneys from accepting referrals from a referral service if the client is referred to another entity. There have been ongoing discussions regarding the proposed amendments which are designed to prevent collusion. Some experts feel that proper regulation exists to prevent such nefarious acts and others are clamoring for greater oversight into the business relationships of all interested parties. Generally, for profit Florida Medical and Legal Referral Services are wholly designed to link consumers who are actively searching for a physician or attorney. Companies such as 1-800-ASK-GARY and 411-Pain have a different business model. Many consumers are unaware of the relationship between the advertisers, the physician provider and the attorney. Let’s examine the main lawyer referral services in Florida individually and focus on what they fail to tell the consumer.
Allegations Concerning ASK-GARY
1-800-ASK-GARY claims to be a free attorney and medical referral service. When you read the fine print at the bottom of their TV commercials and website, or listen to the rapid verbiage at the end of a radio spot, you will notice that they now openly admit that, “Healthcare providers and participating attorneys pay a fee to participate.” Albeit in small print I give them credit for disclosing such. Recently, State Farm filed a lawsuit against 1-800-ASK-GARY and its founder. The 52-page complaint filed on July 26, 2013 also makes the following allegations:
- Contrary to state law, personal injury patients were allegedly treated by Physicians Group, LLC providers without regard for health insurance benefits which should be considered to off-set the costs once PIP benefits are exhausted
- Nearly all of the ASK-GARY callers were referred to attorneys that pay to participate in their network; this has the very stink of a quid-pro-quo relationship since the attorneys in turn refer all of those personal injury clients to ASK-GARY medical clinics owned by the founder, Gary Kompothecras.
- Kompothecras is trying to create the illusion that his clinics and the advertising arm of the business operate at arm’s length. However, a cousin of Gary Kompothecras is the owner of WS Marketing. State Farm has alleged that WS Marketing is a shell company of 1-800-ASK-GARY
411-Pain Network of Attorneys
To compare, 411-PAIN has seen a meteoric rise on the coattails of ASK-GARY in recent years. The company was developed in south Florida by a chiropractor, Robert Lewin. Lewin operated several injury clinics in the Miami area which have since opened up clinics throughout the State of Florida. 411-Pain has clinics of their own in several major metropolitan areas. In the less populated suburbs and neighboring cities, they call upon local medical providers to pay a fee to participate in their massive marketing campaigns. Of course, participating attorneys are also charged a fee to be included in the network as well. All callers are either referred to a clinic wholly owned by the advertiser or one of its participating medical providers (those that pay a fee in the less populated areas or areas where 411-Pain does not operate a clinic).
Deceptive Radio Commercials by 411-Pain
On their website, the service states their ability to refer consumers to a lawyer. Further, their radio commercials eschew the claim that 411-Pain has cultivated an exclusive group of attorneys. In fact, many 411-Pain radio spots poke fun at the number of lawyers who advertise for handling personal injury claims. The truth is that the 411-Pain network of attorneys is hardly exclusive. The non-attorney spokesperson states that not every attorney can be a member of 411-Pain. This statement in and of itself is entirely misleading. The spokesperson purposely omits the fact that attorneys pay a fee to be a part of this medical and lawyer referral service. 411-Pain limits the number of attorneys per geographic region for the very purpose of being able to refer cases. If too many attorneys are in a geographic region, the referral service would not be able to properly distribute cases to participating attorneys. Auto accident victims are led to infer from the radio commercials that the individual in the call center employed by 411-Pain is actually researching the claim and determining which attorney or law firm is most capable of handling the particular claim. In contrast, cases are disbursed to attorneys based on a rotation to ensure each participating lawyer or firm received a proportionate number of cases. 411-Pain radio commercials may create the impression that only the most talented lawyers are members of this medical lawyer referral service. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, a majority of the most talented lawyers in the state, based on selection by U.S. News & World Report, Superlawyers, Florida Trend’s Legal Elite and other third party rating services have no affiliation with any lawyer referral service. 411-Pain has attracted the attention of the Florida Attorney General’s Office for deceptive advertising. The referral service was forced to answer for their actions in Broward County Circuit Court and as a result, paid a $550,000 fine which stems from:
- Promising monetary compensation in its ads
- Saying it’s referring victims to a so-called “specialized attorney”
- Using a website’s Find A Lawyer section to refer consumers to doctors or chiropractors
- Using images of law enforcement offices to suggest that officials are directing consumers to us 411-PAIN unless the office is labeled as a “paid actor”
You can see that the only exclusive characteristic of a member of these referral services is that you pay a fee to participate. When the paid spokesperson makes a claim such as the fact that they have cultivated an exclusive network of providers or attorneys, the pay to play requirement must be considered. The difficulty I see in this situation is that the Florida Bar does not have any oversight or jurisdiction over advertisers or referral services. As a result, the attorney receiving a referral from a source may face punishment for any improper acts committed even if they occurred without their knowledge. It would be foolish to trust a lawyer referral service over independent research an auto accident victim can conduct on their own. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA purposefully chooses not to participate in any for profit lawyer referral services. Our business has been built through a grass roots effort and the generous referrals of our current and former clients. Our ethical duty is to our clients and we do not have any responsibility for a reciprocal referral relationship to an entity that referred cases to our firm. In fact no one could ever make such an allegation against our law firm in the same manner that State Farm has alleged of the attorneys affiliated with ASK-GARY. Lawyer referral services are required to provide quarterly updates to the Florida Bar, which lists all participating attorneys. To see a list of the attorneys that participate in these referral service relationships click on the provided links below:
- 1-800-ASK-GARY Participating Attorney List
- 411-Pain Participating Attorney List
Trust reliable sources when searching for a legal advocate. It makes far more sense to research the skills, qualifications and reviews provided by consumers of a lawyer as opposed to the recommendation by an individual working in a call center. A non-attorney spokesperson is not an attorney and should never provide any advice pertaining to a legal matter. Read about the experiences of other consumers before hiring a legal professional. Catchy jingles and sharp advertising do not necessarily equivocate to skill as a Personal Injury Lawyer or Civil Trial Attorney.