Ethics Advisory Opinion 15-05

Utah State Bar

Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee
Opinion Number 15-05
Issued September 30, 2015

ISSUE

  1. 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?

OPINION

  1. 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.

BACKGROUND

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
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Ethics Advisory Opinion 14-04

Utah State Bar
Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee
Revised Opinion Number 14-04 (see Dissent)
Issued November 12, 2014

ISSUE

1.         What are the ethical limits to participating in attorney rating systems, especially those that identify “the Best Lawyer” or “Super Lawyer”?

OPINION

2.         Rule 7.1 of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct (the “URPC”) prohibits false or misleading communications concerning a lawyer or a lawyer’s services. An unsubstantiated comparison of lawyers is false or misleading if it would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the comparison can be substantiated. Advertisement of a rating, or of inclusion in a ranking list as being “super” or “best” or the like, by a comparing organization is permissible where the comparing organization has made an appropriate inquiry into the lawyer’s fitness, the lawyer does not pay to receive the rating itself (although she may pay for an investigation in accordance with Rule 7.2), the comparing organization’s methodology or standard used to determine the rating or ranking is fully disclosed and explained and conveniently available to the public, and the communication disclaims the approval of the Utah Supreme Court and/or the Utah State Bar. The factual basis for the comparison of the rated or listed lawyer’s services to the services of other lawyers must be verifiable in order to pass muster under Rule 7.1. Any advertisement must state that the lawyer was included in a “super” or other such list or ranking rather than describe the lawyer as being a “super lawyer” or the “best lawyer.”  The statements that a lawyer is “super” or the “best” cannot be factually substantiated and are inherently misleading.

3.         Rule 7.2 of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits giving “anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services; except that a lawyer may: . . . pay the reasonable costs of advertisements or communications permitted by this Rule. . . .” Rule 7.2(b)(1). A lawyer who pays an entity to list her as the “best lawyer” in an area or to otherwise compare her favorably to other lawyers violates Rule 7.2 because she is giving something of value to another to recommend the lawyer’s services.  She is not paying the reasonable costs of advertising. Similarly, trading votes with another in a survey to determine the “best lawyer” is giving something of value for the other person to recommend the lawyer’s services and violates Rule 7.2. “[A]nything of value” would also include monies paid to a public figure or celebrity to recommend a lawyer. It is permissible for a lawyer to pay a fee to a comparing organization to conduct an investigation into the lawyer’s fitness, but the outcome of the investigation must be independent of the fee.

BACKGROUND

4.         Certain websites, advertisers and companies offer services in which they list lawyers as the “best” in a particular locale, practice area, city, etc. Sometimes these entities determine who they will list as the “best” simply by including whoever signs up (and pays them) first. Other times companies will run on-line voting contests to determine which lawyers, restaurants, and businesses are the “best” in the area based solely on the number of votes cast, a system that can be easily manipulated by lawyers with large staffs or multiple email addresses. Other entities purport to have more scientific or valid methods of identifying outstanding lawyers, in which they investigate each lawyer’s fitness before deciding whether to rate the lawyer favorably. Still other entities investigate and approve of law firms or lawyers who have good business practices (e.g., have current business licenses and Utah State Bar licenses, have not been publicly disciplined, etc.), separate and apart from the lawyers’ legal experience, skill, and expertise, or lack thereof, which they do not investigate or evaluate. The Committee has been asked to opine as to when these arrangements violate the Rules of Professional Conduct.
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Ethics Advisory Opinion 14-03

Utah State Bar
Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee

Opinion Number 14-03

Issued April 22, 2014

ISSUE

1.         Do the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit referral agreements between two attorneys that require one of the attorneys (the “Referring Attorney”) to refer to the other (the “Receiving Attorney”) all clients that have a certain specified type of products liability claim?

 OPINION

2.         The Committee concludes that an agreement between two attorneys which requires the Referring Attorney to refer to the Receiving Attorney all clients that have a certain specified type of claim may likely violate various provisions of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct (the “Rules”).

FACTS

3.         The Referring Attorney, licensed to practice in the State of Utah, and the Receiving Attorney, licensed to practice elsewhere, enter into an agreement governed by Utah law (the “Agreement”) to jointly pursue certain kinds of products liability claims (the “Claims”) of individuals located in the State of Utah.  The Agreement provides in relevant part:

  1. Referring Attorney will generate the cases by placing advertising and/or arranging for medical testing and diagnosis of prospective clients and would be entitled to reimbursement from the Receiving Attorney for the costs of doing so.
  2. In return for the Receiving Attorney’s agreement to pay those expenses, the Referring Attorney would be required to exclusively refer to the Receiving Attorney all clients having such Claims who contact the Referring Attorney.  The Referring Attorney would not be allowed to represent such clients himself or to refer such clients to any other attorney.
  3. The Referring Attorney will place advertising, accept incoming calls from potential clients, obtain medical records from potential clients, arrange for medical testing, and perform certain other related tasks, before turning the clients over to Receiving Attorney for further action.
  4. The Receiving Attorney will decide in his sole discretion the venue, jurisdiction, timing, counts, and content of complaints or petitions, joinder of plaintiffs and/or defendants, and any other strategic issues relating to the Claims.
  5. The Referring Attorney will ask clients to sign new fee agreements directly with the Receiving Attorney, identifying the Receiving Attorney as the clients’ attorney, will inform the clients of the division of fees between the two attorneys, and will inform the clients of any other matters deemed by either attorney to be required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.
  6. The Referring Attorney will not be required to perform any services except those specified in the Agreement or required by the Utah Rules or by any other ethical rules governing the Claims or any resulting cases.
  7. The Receiving Attorney will pay the Referring Attorney specified portions of the fees recovered by the Receiving Attorney for the clients on their Claims.

 ANALYSIS

 

4.         The fee sharing agreement between the two attorneys is governed by Rule 1.5, which provides that there may be a division of fees between lawyers in different firms, but on the following condition:

(e)(1) the division is in proportion to the services performed by each lawyer or each lawyer assumes joint responsibility for the representation;

(e)(2) the client agrees to the arrangement, including the share each lawyer will receive, and the agreement is confirmed in writing; and

(e)(3) the total fee is reasonable.
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 09-01

OPINION NO. 09-01
MAIN OPINION:
Issued February 23, 2009
1. Issue: What are the ethical limits for the use of testimonials, dramatizations or fictionalized representations in lawyers’ advertising on television or web sites?

2. Opinion: Advertising may not be “false or misleading”. Testimonials or dramatizations may be false or misleading is there is substantial likelihood that a reasonable person will reach a conclusion for which there is no factual foundation or will form an unjustified expectation. The inclusion of appropriate disclaimer or qualifying language may prevent testimonials or dramatizations from being false or misleading.
3. Background: As this Committee explained in Opinion No. 00-02, “The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that public communication concerning a lawyer’s services (including any form of advertising) is commercial speech, enjoys First Amendment protection, and can be regulated only to further substantial state interests, and then only in the least restrictive manner possible. The cardinal rule concerning all public communication about a lawyer and her services is that the communication not be false or misleading.” 1
4. Since we issued our most recent opinion regarding advertising, Rule 7.1 of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct (and of the Model Rules) has been amended to include only the simple paragraph set forth below. The amendments deleted subsections (b) and (c) which had specified that a communication was “false or misleading” if it “is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve” or if “compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.” Instead these issues were dealt with less rigidly in the Comments to Rule 7.1. The ABA Ethics 2000 Commission that recommended these amendments to Rule 7.1 explained its rationale:
The Commission recommends deletion of this specification of a “misleading” communication because it is overly broad and can be interpreted to prohibit communications that are not substantially likely to lead a reasonable person to form a specific and unwarranted conclusion about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. . . . . The Commission also believes that a prohibition of all comparisons that cannot be factually substantiated is unduly broad. Whether such comparisons are misleading should be assessed on a case-by-case basis in terms of whether the particular comparison is substantially likely to mislead a reasonable person to believe that the comparison can be substantiated. . . . . 2
5. While some state regulators retained the old language and other regulators adopted detailed categories of statements that are “false or misleading,” a leading commentator and original draftsperson of the Model Rules recommends against such an approach:
In the end, the best course for state regulators is to adopt the current simple and direct language of Model Rule 7.1 and issue interpretive guidelines . . . .Attempts to impose more burdensome and categorical prohibitions are likely to lead to little but constitutional litigation. GEOFFREY HAZARD, W. WILLIAM HODES, AND PETER JARVIS, THE LAW OF LAWYERING (3rd) §55.3
6. Analysis: We issue the following “interpretive guidelines” relying upon suggestions of commentators, other state’s suggestions and case law. We also suggest that Utah lawyers be aware of Utah’s Truth in Advertising Statute, Utah Code Ann. §13-11a-1 et. seq; Utah’s Consumer Sales Practices Act, §13-11-1 et. seq. which prohibit deceptive acts or practices.
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 05-03

September 30, 2005
HISTORY:
On May 6, 2005, the Utah Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee issued Utah Ethics Advisory Op. No. 05-03, 2005 WL 4748681 (Utah St. Bar). The Requestors of the Opinion filed a Petition for Review with the Board of Bar Commissioners pursuant § III(e)(1) of the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee Rules of Procedure and § VI(a)(1) of the Utah State Bar Rules Governing the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee. At a meeting of the Board of Bar Commissioners of the Utah State Bar on July 13, 2005, the Commission reviewed the conclusions and analysis of the majority view and the minority view of Opinion No. 05-03, and voted to issue a revised opinion, set forth below as Opinion No. 05-03. The initial Opinion No. 05-03 as originally issued by the Committee is appended in its entirety for historical reference only and should not be cited or used for purposes other than background.
1. Issue: May a lawyer who serves as a domestic relations mediator, following a successful mediation, draft the settlement agreement and necessary court pleadings to obtain a divorce for the parties?

2. Opinion: When a lawyer-mediator, after a successful mediation, drafts the settlement agreement, complaint and other pleadings to implement the settlement and obtain a divorce for the parties, the lawyer-mediator is engaged in the practice of law and attempting to represent opposing parties in litigation. A lawyer may not represent both parties following a mediation to obtain a divorce for the parties.
3. Analysis: The issue considered here was the subject of a prior opinion issued by the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee in 1992. We have been asked to revisit this issue again because of the expansion and apparent success of divorce mediators in resolving domestic relations matters for pro se litigants for whom the cost of retaining legal counsel may be a serious financial burden. 1
4. Utah Ethics Advisory Opinion 116 considered the following issue: “Under what circumstances may an attorney represent both parties in a divorce?”2 The answer given in Opinion 116 was “never,” based on the clear ethical mandates of Rules 1.7(a) and 1.7(b) of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct.3 These rules establish a duty of undivided loyalty of counsel to a client.4 Opinion 116 concluded that our rules preclude concurrent representation of clients with directly adverse interests in the matter. Opinion 116 included a lengthy discussion of policy arguments favoring dual representation and policy arguments opposing dual representation in divorce proceedings and concluded that: “The concurrent representation of both parties in a divorce is an ethically unacceptable practice.”5
5. In the 12 years since Opinion 116 was issued, the applicable rules and the arguments bearing upon dual representation in divorce proceedings have not materially changed. The arguably successful and beneficial development of alternative dispute resolution and mediation in the interim does not change our conclusion here. Since the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee has no policy-making authority, the fact that parties to all lawsuits, including divorces, are increasingly turning to alternative dispute resolution with reportedly positive results to the public and Bar alike cannot alter the clear mandate of our Rules. Whatever the social, financial or other impacts of the alternative dispute resolution trend, and even assuming its worth and inevitability, the ethical rules we are charged to uphold have no “public policy” exceptions that would permit the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee to rewrite the rules to achieve a result some may believe is beneficial, even if that revision is a carefully reasoned, narrowly crafted exception.6 (more…)

ETHICS ADVISORY OPINION No. 03-03

Issued June 23, 2003
1 Issue
: Is it ethical for a lawyer to advertise to provide legal services in Social Security Administration hearings to claimants who have been denied benefits, where nonlawyers are used by the lawyer in providing these services?

2 Opinion: With due consideration for the rules governing advertising and supervi­sion of nonlawyers assistants, it is not unethical for a lawyer to use nonlawyer para­professionals to provide representation of clients in hearings before a government agency that authorizes nonlawyer representation. In particular, the lawyer does not assist the nonlawyer paraprofessional in the unauthorized practice of law under these circum­stances.1
3 Background: The United States Social Security Administration permits nonlawyers to appear at hearings as representatives of claimants challenging the denial of Social Security benefits. The hearings are evidentiary and require representatives of claimants to offer direct testimony and to cross-examine adverse witnesses. Lawyers who represent claimants for Social Security Administration benefits often use nonlawyer parapro­fessionals to represent the clients in the agency hearings. These lawyers advertise their services in Social Security Administration matters, but commonly do not disclose in the advertisements that the client’s representative at the hearing is normally a nonlawyer paraprofessional.
4 Analysis: We have been asked whether an advertisement placed by a lawyer to provide legal services in Social Security Administration hearings to claimants who have been denied Social Security benefits must disclose that the lawyer normally uses nonlawyer para­professionals in making appearances for claimants in such hearings.
5 Advertising Rules. The first step in the analysis is to review the rules governing advertising. First, “[s]ubject to the requirements of Rules 7.1 and 7.3, a lawyer may advertise services through public media, such as a telephone directory, legal directory, newspaper or other periodical, outdoor advertising, radio or television, or through written or recorded communication.”2 But, any advertisement for the lawyer’s legal services must comport with Rule 7.1(a):
A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the law­yer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it: (a) Contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.3
As the comment to the Rule emphasizes, “This Rule applies to all communications concerning the lawyer’s services, including advertising materials.”4
6 Thus, a disclosure concerning the use of paraprofessionals would only be required if it were necessary to make the advertisement “considered as a whole, not materially misleading.” But, lawyers routinely provide legal services through the use of nonlawyer paraprofessionals and, indeed, are encouraged to do so to make legal services affordable to the broadest spectrum of the population. Thus, we conclude that the advertisement in question is not materially misleading if it does not disclose that the services are often provided through nonlawyer paraprofessionals.
7 Delegation to Nonlawyers. Social Security Administration rules and regulations permit the appearance of nonlawyer representatives for claimants in Social Security Administration hearings challenging the denial of benefits.5 Without such authority, paraprofessionals would ordinarily not be allowed to provide unassisted representation of a client in an evidentiary hearing. Given the Social Security Administration’s authoriza­tion of nonlawyer professionals to appear as representatives of claimants at its hearings, a lawyer does not act unethically in delegating to paralegals the representation of clients at these hearings. However, the lawyer must comply with his supervisory responsibilities under Rule 5.3,6 which permits nonlawyer paraprofessionals to “act for the lawyer in rendition of the lawyer’s professional services.”7 Rule 5.3 requires, however, that the lawyer provide nonlawyer paraprofessionals appropriate supervision and retain responsi­bility for their work.8
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 01-05

Issued July 13, 2001
1. Issue:
What are the ethical implications for a real estate broker who includes in his promotional material that he is also a lawyer?

2. Opinion: A lawyer functioning in a law-related profession, such as real estate brokerage, who holds out as either an active or inactive lawyer will be subject to the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct while engaged in that law-related profession.
3. Background: An individual who is currently licensed to practice law in State A and is an inactive member of the Utah State Bar intends to engage in providing real estate agent or real estate brokerage services in Utah. He has asked the Committee about the ethical consequences of stating in advertising for his Utah real estate services that he is a licensed and active lawyer in State A and an inactive Utah lawyer.
4. Analysis: The lawyer, acting in his role as a real estate broker,1is not marketing legal services that he will deliver as a lawyer, but is alerting prospective real estate clients that he is a lawyer-trained real estate broker and can deliver real estate professional services. The purpose of a factually correct claim in advertising his real estate services that he is a lawyer may be to gain the confidence of clients or gain an advantage over non-lawyer real estate agents or brokers on the indirectly promoted assumption that a lawyer-trained real estate broker would be able to exercise better professional judgment than a non-lawyer-trained broker with respect to issues that could come up in the marketing, sale or acquisition of real estate.
5. When a lawyer markets himself as able to perform non-legal professional services for a client and lists his qualifications or experience as a lawyer in a communication for “law-related professional services,” the use of such legal credentials is a “communication” within the meaning of the Rule 7.1, if a recipient of such materials could reasonably believe that the lawyer is offering legal services or professional advice that involves his legal experience, judgment or considerations.2An inactive member of the Bar may list a J.D. degree as a “credential,” but may not hold himself out as a lawyer.3The display of such credentials without more would not invoke the Rules of Professional Conduct even though the inactive member is engaged in a law-related profession.
6. The real estate broker profession is law-related,4and it may not be possible to know whether the lawyer’s work for the client is performed as part of a practice of law or part of the lawyer’s other occupation: “If the second occupation (such as a real estate brokerage business) is so law-related that the work of the lawyer in such an occupation will involve, inseparably, the practice of law, the lawyer is considered to be engaged in the practice of law while conducting that occupation. Accordingly, he is held to the standards of the bar while conducting that second occupation from his law offices.”5
7. As to the actively practicing lawyer, we have previously concluded that a lawyer who engages in a real estate, life insurance or title business is held to the ethical standards of a lawyer in both profession.6We have also more recently determined that a lawyer who holds himself out as a lawyer in any context may not ethically form a partnership with a non-lawyer if any of the activities of the partnership constitute the practice of law.7Applying this standard to an inactive lawyer who holds himself out in advertising in a law-related profession as lawyer-trained, we affirm that he would be held to the ethical standards of the legal profession while acting in the law-related profession. Further, because the lawyer is not currently qualified to practice law in the State of Utah, he may be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law when engaged in the real estate profession if he advertises that he is a lawyer, albeit, inactive. However, it is not within the purview of this Committee to determine what constitutes the unauthorized practice of law.
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 01-07

Issued August 29, 2001
1. Issue:
Is it a violation of the ethical rules for an attorney or law firm to use trade names such as “Legal Center for the Wrongfully Accused” or “Legal Center for Victims of Domestic Violence” in selected court pleadings?

2. Opinion: It is not a violation of the ethical rules for an attorney or law firm to use trade names such as “Legal Center for the Wrongfully Accused” or “Legal Center for Victims of Domestic Violence” so long as the organization represents clients who claim to be in the indicated categories and provided the name is uniformly used for all such representation. Selective use of such trade names for some clients in the indicated categories but not others would violate Utah Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1(a).
3. Facts: A law firm desires to use the name “Legal Center for the Wrongfully Accused” in selected pleadings “in appropriate circumstances.” The law firm does not intend to use the trade name in advertising or in every pleading filed with a court. Use of the name will be limited to domestic violence cases, and will be used only in circumstances where the law firm deems it appropriate. The law firm proposes to use this trade name in response to the use by a public or charitable legal services organization designated “Legal Center for the Victims of Domestic Violence.”
4. Applicable Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 7.5(a) of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct states:
A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead or other professional designation that violates Rule 7.1. A trade name may be used by a lawyer in private practice if it does not imply a connection with a government agency or with a public or charitable legal services organization and is not otherwise in violation of Rule 7.1.
5. Rule 7.1 states:
A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it:
(a) Contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;
(b) Is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or
(c) Compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.
6. Analysis: Rule 7.5(a) expressly authorizes a lawyer’s use of trade names provided certain conditions are met. Use of trade names can assist the public in the selection of an attorney. The Committee is of the opinion that a law firm’s use of the trade name “Legal Center for the Wrongfully Accused” would satisfy the requirements of Rule 7.5(a) provided the law firm actually represents clients accused of unlawful conduct and provided the firm uses the name uniformly in all cases in which the firm’s client is accused of unlawful conduct. The law firm may not use the trade name in some “unlawful conduct” cases but not others. The same analysis applies to the trade name “Legal Center for Victims of Domestic Violence.”
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 00-07

(Approved June 2, 2000)
Issue:
Do the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit a lawyer licensed to practice in Utah from participating in an association of lawyers that would use joint letterhead, with a disclaimer that the association “is an affiliation of independent attorneys-not a partnership?”

Opinion: A lawyer does not violate the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct if he participates in an association or affiliation of individual lawyers and law firms, provided that he adheres to the applicable rules regarding conflicts of interest and disclosure of confidential information. However, it would be misleading, and therefore a violation of the Rules, for the lawyer to participate in such an association or affiliation if its members were to practice under a common firm name and were to use joint letterhead. The inclusion of a partnership disclaimer would not cure the misleading nature of the letterhead concerning the relationship among the attorneys.
Facts: A Utah lawyer desires to associate himself with lawyers who are licensed to practice law in various foreign countries. Under the proposed arrangement, the members of the association would not be partners, but would be independent practitioners. It is not clear from the facts whether the lawyers participating in the association would merely refer clients to each other or whether they would also have some kind of a financial arrangement. The lawyers would use joint letterhead, which would identify the association as follows:
A, B, C & D
International Lawyers
[Address]
Offices: Representative
A, Admitted: State,Country United Kingdom
B, Admitted: Country European Union
C, Admitted: Country Russia
D, Admitted: State, Country Asia
A,B,C & D is an affiliation of independent attorneys—not a partnership.
Analysis: A lawyer’s communications regarding the lawyer’s services, including the designation of the lawyer’s firm and the lawyer’s letterhead, must comply with the requirements of Rules 7.1, 7.4 and 7.5 of the Rules.
Rule 7.1 states that “A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.”1Rule 7.5 governs firm names and letterheads, and subsection (d) is applicable to the analysis in this case: “Lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other organization only when that is the fact.”2The obligation of the lawyer not to mislead third parties is further delineated by Rule 7.4, which outlines the limits of the lawyer’s communication of his fields of practice and states that, while allowed to indicate that his practice is limited to specific areas of practice, a lawyer cannot communicate that he is a specialist, unless otherwise permitted by the rule.3
The practice of law has evolved from the traditional model of a partnership with a single law office to various, more fluid forms of relationships among lawyers, which range from structures similar in nature to a partnership to arrangements that merely contemplate mutual referrals. It has now become common practice for lawyers to associate or become affiliated with other lawyers or law firms in different states or countries by way of some form of strategic alliance or participation in national or international networks. While these creative forms of association may provide a legitimate service to clients in a shrinking world, nonetheless they remain circumscribed by the Rules. (more…)

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 99-04

(Approved June 30, 1999)
General Issue:
What are the ethical considerations that govern a lawyer who wishes to conduct legal seminars; provide legal information to groups of retirement-home residents; host open houses; set up information booths at trade shows; participate in Bar-sponsored question-and-answer programs; or make in-person contacts with prospective clients at the request of their friends or relatives?

Summary: This Opinion analyzes and decides a range of related questions that have arisen in connection with lawyers’ marketing and solicitation activities. In general, we find that lawyers may make their services known through a variety of methods that do not involve uninvited, one-on-one approaches, discussions or solicitations. On the other hand, where monetary gain is a significant motivation, lawyers may not generally engage in uninvited, direct in-person communications with prospective clients in order to indicate the lawyer’s availability to accept professional employment.
Issue No. 1: May a lawyer sponsor and advertise a free seminar on legal issues to be presented in a group setting to members of the public and (i) offer literature or videos discussing the legal topic, either with or without fee, to attendees of the seminar, (ii) give a business card to attendees who request one, and (iii) accept employment to provide legal services to an attendee who initiates a request for professional services?
Opinion: Yes. Provided that the invitations do not communicate the lawyer’s availability to accept professional employment, a lawyer may invite members of the public to a law-related seminar with invitations delivered by mail, by telephone or in person. If the invitations communicate the lawyer’s availability to accept professional employment, the invitation may not be in person or telephonic and must comply with Utah Rules of Professional Conduct 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3(b). So long as the lawyer complies with the requirements of Rule 7.3(a) and does not solicit professional employment from attendees of the seminar in person, the lawyer may provide a business card to an attendee of the seminar who requests it and may accept employment to provide legal services to attendees of the seminar who initiate the request for professional services. The lawyer may distribute or offer in person to each attendee literature or videos discussing the legal topic, with or without fee, provided the literature or videos do not communicate the lawyer’s availability to accept professional employment. The lawyer may distribute or offer in person to attendees literature or videos which communicate the lawyer’s availability to accept professional employment only if the request for such materials is initiated by the attendee. The lawyer may make business cards, brochures and other literature communicating the lawyer’s availability to accept professional employment available at a table to those in attendance who voluntarily, without inperson encouragement, choose to pick up the materials.
Issue No. 2: If a lawyer volunteers to appear before a group of residents of a retirement or senior center to answer in a group setting questions they may have concerning legal topics, may the lawyer ethically accept legal engagements offered by residents of the center who attend the group question and answer session? (more…)

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 97-05

(Approved April 25, 1997)
Issue No. 1: Is it ethical for an attorney to receive payment for legal services other than in money?
Opinion: The Utah Rules of Professional Conduct permit an attorney to accept payment for legal services in a form other than money. All arrangements for payment of an attorney’s fees, however, must comply with the applicable provisions of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct concerning fees and the attorney-client relationship.
Issue No. 2: Is it ethical for an attorney to barter legal services through a barter exchange?

Opinion: Although an attorney’s bartering of legal services through a barter exchange is not prohibited per se by the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct, such bartering is unethical if the attorney’s conduct or the structure, terms, or conditions of the attorney’s arrangements with the barter exchange violate any of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct.
Analysis: The request for this opinion asks generally, without presenting specific facts and circumstances, whether attorneys ethically may receive payment for legal services other than in money, such as through barter exchanges. The request also asks whether Utah Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 50, issued August 25, 1978, is still valid, noting that questions concerning an attorney’s participation in barter exchanges are of continuing interest in Utah.
Payment of Attorneys’ Fees Other Than in Money. Nothing in the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct requires that an attorney’s fees be paid in money. The fundamental requirement of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct is that an attorney’s fees must be reasonable.1
Rule 1.5(b) requires a written communication concerning the basis or rate of an attorney’s fee when the lawyer has not regularly represented the client and it is reasonably foreseeable that total attorneys’ fees to the client will exceed $750.00. A determination of whether the $750.00 threshold will be met in a particular case requires that attorneys’ fees be evaluated in terms of their dollar amount.
However, Rule 1.5 does not require that payment for legal services be made in money. The following official comment to Rule 1.5 states that an attorney may accept property in payment for fees:
A lawyer may accept property in payment for services, such as an ownership interest in an enterprise, providing this does not involve acquisition of a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of the litigation contrary to Rule 1.8(j). However, a fee paid in property instead of money may be subject to special scrutiny because it involves questions concerning both the value of the services and the lawyer’s special knowledge of the value of the property.
As this comment illustrates, no arrangement for payment of an attorney’s fees, whether in money, property or services, should violate any of the prohibited transaction rules of Rule 1.8. For example, an arrangement for payment of attorneys’ fees that involves the acquisition of a pecuniary interest adverse to a client in violation of Rule 1.8(a) is prohibited. Any arrangement for payment of attorneys’ fees that involves giving the lawyer literary or media rights in violation of Rule 1.8(d) is prohibited. Accepting reimbursement of costs other than in money in a way that provides for an improper advance of costs or expenses could also violate the financial assistance restrictions of Rule 1.8(e).
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95-04 – May a lawyer or a law firm enter a franchise agreement with a firm that provides marketing and other service arrangements?

 

 

(Approved April 28, 1995)
Issue:
May a lawyer or a law firm enter a franchise agreement with a firm that provides marketing and other service arrangements?

Opinion: It is unethical for a lawyer or a law firm to enter into a franchise agreement when the franchisee is not in a partnership or professional corporation relationship with the franchisor.1
Analysis: This request was submitted by a solo practitioner who desires to enter a franchise arrangement with an out-of-state firm that provides a trade name, marketing and other service arrangements for franchisees. Because of the multiplicity of potential relationships or affiliations among law firms, this Opinion is limited to consideration of a “franchise” arrangement having as its essential element the marketing of legal services under a common trade name. We do not address the many issues that could arise if the franchisor had the ability through the agreement to prescribe methods and processes for the franchisee or otherwise affect the independent professional judgment of the lawyer. 2 We assume the franchise arrangement provides for lower operating costs without an impact on individual firm autonomy and that the relationship does not provide for a partnership or professional corporation arrangement between the franchisee and the franchisor. The franchisee firm and the franchisor firm will be marketed on letterhead, in law directories, etc., using a common trade name.
Although the subject of a law firm’s entering into a franchise agreement is a matter of first impression for this Committee, the general theme of using a firm name that implies a misleading relationship is not new.3As a survey of other jurisdictions that have considered the question of franchising indicates, the application of Rules 7.5(a) and 7.1 of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct is most appropriate. Rule 7.5(a) provides: “A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead, or other professional designation that violates Rule 7.1.” Rule 7.1 sets out that:
A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it:
(a) Contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;
(b) Is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or
(c) Compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyer’s services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.
(d) Lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other organization only when it is the fact.
This Committee’s Opinion No. 139 applied the rules above to a particular misleading firm name, but other jurisdictions have specifically applied analogues of Utah Rules 7.1 and 7.5(a) in determining that a franchise system as described above would be unethical.
The State Bar of Michigan Standing Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics issued an opinion that “it is unethical for lawyers to offer or make an agreement to franchise a law firm name when the franchisees in fact are not in a partnership or professional corporation relationship with the franchisors.”4 The Michigan Bar determined that a franchise arrangement which facilitated the use of a trade name, common marketing plans and other services to the franchisee implied a partnership or professional corporation when none existed, and that the franchise arrangement, therefore, violated Michigan’s Rule 7.5(d).5
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