You get a call from a person working for a company that promises you that they are looking for three lawyers practicing in your field of emphasis in the Bay Area and that, if you sign up now for a low monthly fee, they’ll send you an average of three new clients a month. You’re thrilled because, in these uncertain times, who doesn’t need a steady stream of business? Before you say yes, however, there are certain questions you should ask.
First, is the company that is going to send you clients certified as a lawyer referral service by the State Bar? Second, does it vet the lawyers to whom it will refer potential clients and ensure that they meet certain minimum requirements and carry malpractice insurance? If the company hedges on these questions or tells you it’s really not a referral company, I suggest you politely turn them down.
Lawyer referral services are governed by Business and Professions Code section 6155. Subdivision (a) of that section precludes companies from referring clients to lawyers unless they comply with this section. Compliance means the company must make sure the attorneys to whom it will make referrals comply with the California Rules of Professional Conduct and statutes governing the practice of law, and that each such lawyer carries professional liability insurance. (Bus. & Prof. Code, $6155, subd. (f)(6).) Private referral companies may be tempted to avoid these fees by claiming they are not really referral services. However, the First District Court of Appeal recently held that simply matching a potential client with a lawyer constituted a referral (Jackson v. LegalMatch (20t9) 42 Cal.App.5th 460.)
Paying an uncertified lawyer referral service fees for referrals is barred both by Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2, subdivision (b)(2), and by section 6155, subdivision (a). Accordingly, attorneys should avoid paying fees to be listed for referrals by companies that are not State Bar certified lawyer referral services.
About the author:
William M. Balin is a former chair of the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Legal Ethics Committee. His solo practice is located in Pleasant Hill, California, and focuses on legal ethics consultations, fee disputes and State Bar discipline defense.