Ethics Advisory Opinion 15-05

Utah State Bar

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


  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?


  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.


  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,, 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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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 (more…)