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Proposed Bar Regulations Could be the End of Doctor and Lawyer Referral Services in Florida

All credit goes to the music artist, Khia for her seminal work “My neck, my back” which has recently inspired the auto-accident attorney/doctor referral service, 411 Pain’s newest ad jingle. The popularity and efficacy of such advertisements has recently induced the Florida Bar into action. Subject to an inconclusive 2011 Bar examination, 411 Pain has come under increasingly heavy fire from the legal industry it purports to represent and has even been subject to official legal action by the attorney general of Florida, Pam Bondi, which forced it to cease certain aspects of its advertisement campaigns. 411 Pain and 1-800-ASK-GARY, compete for the title of largest and most aggressive of the medico-legal referral services. The entire industry has been called into question across the Country, and the private, for-profit attorney referral service industry has largely been outlawed in other jurisdictions. In-fact, Florida is one of only 12 remaining states which allow this kind of business to exist.

The industry has a powerful lobby in Tallahassee, and has a massive media presence throughout the state, which makes a total ban seem unlikely in the immediate future. Recent steps taken by the Florida Bar Association’s Rule Committee in April of 2014 seeks to seriously bifurcate the industry into two separate spheres; one for legal service, and another for medical. Some of the finer points of the proposed new rules are listed below:

  • Attorneys may not be a member of a referral service that requires or has a quid pro quo system in which attorneys refers their clients to other members of the same referral service.
  • Attorneys must obtain their clients’ full written informed consent in order to refer them to another member of the same service.
  • Attorneys must report to the FL Bar their association with any referral service, including their fees and if they leave such services.
  • Law Firms belonging to such a service must designate an attorney within the firm to handle the firm’s relationship with the service in order to ensure compliance with all Bar rules.
  • Law Firms and attorneys are further prohibited from making first contact with clients.
  • Firms and attorneys must notify their clients in writing that the lawyer or firm received and paid for their referrals.
  • Lawyers and Firms may not charge more for clients referred by a service than non-referred clients.
  • Law firms and attorneys cannot split fees with referral services.
  • Finally, a special bar committee ruled that attorneys cannot be a member of a referral service that also refers clients to medical or other non-legal services.

Other than the obvious intent to separate legal and non-legal referrals, these rules clearly seek to reduce the prevalence of legal referral services. By not allowing firms to offset the costs of membership with these referral services, the Bar Rules Committee clearly intends to “price out” attorneys from the market. At first glance this is a classic and solid approach to attempt to remove something cutting out its roots, but this may be a weed that is not so easily hacked.

The lobbying power of 411 Pain and 1-800-ASK-Gary notwithstanding, the industry’s largest provider may have its market position actually strengthened by this enactment. By forcing attorneys to pay directly for the costs of membership in lawyer referral services, the FL Bar may have put 411 pain and 1-800-ASK-Gary in the position to totally monopolize the industry and render itself an insurmountable monolith. Because these referral services are already so massive, they may be able to move to reduce their membership costs by such a degree that competition is impossible, only to later raise them in response to the ever-increasing demand for such services.

Rather than relying on the “services” of a for-profit website or phone service, if you or a loved one are injured in an accident, you should consider contacting a licensed Florida attorney directly. The experienced litigators of the Dolman Law Group can provide you with the aggressive and diligent legal services required in injury cases. While no attorney can guarantee a winning case, you are always more likely to be happy with the services you receive from a personalized attorney, like the ones at Dolman Law Group.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
727-451-6900

http://www.dolmanlaw.com/legal-services/auto-accidents-attorneys/