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Supreme Court Of Florida Expresses Disapproval Over Lawyer Referral Services

We’ve all heard it, “After 911, call 411”. It’s that catchy tune on the radio that tells you to call 411-PAIN if you’ve been injured in an auto accident. They promise to put you in touch with an “experienced attorney” who will get your life “back on track”. They also promise to help you “recover and heal” after an accident through their network of medical providers. Sounds like a great deal, they put you in touch with an experienced attorney and help with your medical needs, what could possibly go wrong right? Well according to a recent opinion from the Florida Supreme Court, a lot could go wrong, and you might want to think twice before you pick up the phone and dial.

What’s the big deal with referral services?

While it may sound like an ideal situation to have an organization like 411-PAIN handle both your legal and medical needs, it may not, and the bar recently expressed their disapproval of this emerging practice. “Some law firms that are affiliated with for-profit lawyer referral services steer clients towards other businesses operated by the owner of the referral service, sometimes to the detriment of the health and well-being of the client.”[1] Why does this practice hurt clients? The answer is quite simple. Because both the medical provider and the attorney belong to the same referral service, they rely on one another for business. The attorney would rather send the client to a physician who belongs to the same referral service than send them to a doctor whom they know could best treat their symptoms. Even if it is in the clients best interest to see a surgeon or specialist, the attorney and the doctor will work together to ensure that the client stays with a referral service doctor as long as possible.

Why do this? Lawyers do it as they often feel pressured. They feel that if they do not refer a client to a doctor who also participates in the referral service, they may no longer receive referrals from organizations such as 411-PAIN. Doctors, on the other hand, do this for maximum payout. Physicians know that the longer the patient treats with them, the more they can bill, and before a client knows it, their benefits are exhausted.

What is being done to stop this from happening?

Recently the Supreme Court of Florida listened to proposed amendments concerning lawyer referral services. Because of the mounting concern that referral services were taking advantage of clients, the Florida Bar created a Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services to investigate the numerous complaints. After an in depth investigation, the Special Committee came to a consensus on how to move forward. The Special Committee issued seven recommendations, the first of which provided “that lawyers be barred from using referral services that also provided referrals for callers for other professional services, such as medical care.”[2] This recommendation was submitted to the Bar Board of Governors, who flatly rejected the recommendation, and instead proposed that lawyers still be able to belong to such services as long as disclosures were made to potential clients and lawyers took steps to ensure there were no conflicts.[3]

The Supreme Court completely rejected the Board’s proposal. In disagreeing, the Supreme Court of Florida explained that, “The dangers that non-lawyer-owned, for-profit referral services pose to members of the public — who may be especially vulnerable after they suffer an injury, or when they face a legal matter that they never anticipated — leads us to conclude that much stricter regulations upon lawyer referral services are required than those proposed by the Bar,”.[4] As you can see, the Supreme Court was unhappy with the Bar’s effort to effectuate change.

The Supreme Court of Florida specifically ordered, “The Florida Bar to propose amendments to rule 4-7.22 that preclude Florida lawyers from accepting referrals from any lawyer referral service that is not owned or operated by a member of the Bar.” The court continued: “While the action we take today may be viewed by some as severe, we conclude it is absolutely necessary to protect the public from referral services that improperly utilize lawyers to direct clients to undesired, unnecessary, or even harmful treatment or services. Our action today will also prevent conflicts of interest, such as where a lawyer feels compelled or pressured to refer a client to another business operated or controlled by the owner of the referral service so that the lawyer may continue to receive referrals from that service.”[5]

However, not everyone was supportive of the Supreme Court decision. Not surprisingly, the attorney for 411-PAIN was one of the first to speak up and express his clients disapproval over the decision. “Timothy Chinaris, who represents referral service 1-800-411-PAIN, told the court that his client is concerned that the amendments will scare away lawyers from participating in the (for now) lawful advertising program. He said there are already rules against conflicts that would, for example, regulate to which kinds of medical clinics attorneys could send their clients.”[6] Interestingly enough, Mr. Chinaris also admitted that the owner of 411-PAIN also owns a number of medical clinics. I think we can all see the conflict there.

What does all this mean for the future of referral services?

It means that most are on their last leg, and may be disappearing in the near future. Because groups like 411-PAIN and 1-800-ASK-GARY are not owned by members of the bar, they may no longer be able to refer cases to attorneys. Attorneys in the state of Florida would only be able to accept referrals from referral agencies, which are actually owned by members of the bar.

You may be asking yourself how soon these changes could be implemented. It is possible that we may see a change as early as this year. A new petition was ordered by the Supreme Court following this opinion, and should be submitted by May 24, 2016. The aftermath could be staggering.

Florida Personal Injury Attorney

Recovering from a person injury can be a long and sometimes stressful process. When you find yourself in this position, you need to work with a person injury attorney who you can trust will get the job done. To work with an experienced attorney who will zealously fight for you and handle your claim with the dedication and attention to detail it requires, contact Dolman Law Group at (727) 451-6900 to schedule your legal consultation with a member of our firm today. We are here to answer any questions you have about the personal injury claim process and help you seek the monetary compensation you deserve.

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

https://www.dolmanlaw.com/truth-411-pain-lawyer-referral-services/

References:

[1] Supreme Court of Florida- No. SC14-2126 (Re: AMENDMENTS TO RULE REGULATING THE FLORIDA BAR 4-7.22—LAWYER REFERRAL SERVICES.)
[2] The Florida Bar News- Court Orders Private LRS Overhaul. October 15, 2015. https://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/jnnews01.nsf/8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829/9525a3435b87437285257ed500433699!OpenDocument
[3] Id.
[4] Supreme Court of Florida- No. SC14-2126 (Re: AMENDMENTS TO RULE REGULATING THE FLORIDA BAR 4-7.22—LAWYER REFERRAL SERVICES.)
[5]Id.
[6] http://www.law360.com/articles/651238/fla-bar-asks-for-changes-to-referral-service-rules