Utah State Bar
Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee
Opinion Number 15-05
Issued September 30, 2015
- May an attorney pay an internet service company a nominal fee to bid on potential legal work? May an attorney seek clients through an internet business that provides the attorney with limited client information in order to permit the attorney to bid to provide the needed legal services?
- Payment of a nominal fee to the internet forum service provider described herein, thereby enabling the attorney to offer a bid for legal services to a potential client, does not violate: (a) Rule 7.1, Communications concerning a Lawyer’s Services; (b) Rule 7.2, Advertising, or (c) Rule 7.3, Direct Contact with Prospective Clients. Using such an internet business to seek new clients does not violate Rule 1.18 or other rules of professional conduct provided the attorney does not undertake representation for which he has a conflict of interest and the attorney protects the confidentiality of the information received from the prospective client.
- A new internet service provider website has emerged for Utah business market consumers, including potential clients who need and/or seek legal services. The website is an internet forum designed to help all consumers, obtain bids or quotes on various professional services, including legal services, in the geographic area where the potential consumer or client lives or where the potential services are needed. Professionals, including attorneys, may create a profile on the service website (free of charge both to the consumer and to the professional). These professionals may respond in writing to consumer requests for bids or quotes on proposed services. Consumers, including potential legal clients, are allowed to review the professionals/potential attorneys’ submissions, such as attorney biographies, other client analysis of such attorney services, and attorney case summaries. The consumer/potential client may then leave comments or recommendations on the website for separate consumer access.
- This internet forum service is akin to the popular Angie’s List website, www.angieslist.com, which also allows consumers to find professional services the consumer either wants or requires in an identified geographic area. Yet a critical difference between Angie’s List and the internet forum service provider described in this Opinion is that the Angie’s List service charges consumers to become Angie’s List “members” in order to take advantage of Angie’s List services. In contrast, the internet service described in this Opinion is available cost-free to consumers. Instead, the internet service charges the professionals, including attorneys, for this internet service when the professionals submit bids to the consumer with respect to the consumer’s requested service. In order for an attorney to submit a bid to the potential client for requested legal services, the attorney must pay a nominal fee of approximately $3.00 – $5.00 per bid to the internet service provider. The attorney must pay this fee for each bid, regardless of whether the bid actually results in any work for the consumer/client.
- Any Utah lawyer can register on the internet forum service provider described herein and submit a resume and/or listing of attorney qualifications for designated legal services. The internet service confirms that the Utah State Bar has in fact licensed the bidding attorney. The attorney, who has registered with the internet service, selects a category of requests he/she would like to receive, such as tax litigation, contract law, criminal law, etc. The attorney also sets a travel geographic area to specify the maximum distance the professional would limit his/her services.