Formal Opinion 465 recognizes that these marketing programs — both online and in print — offer lawyers an alternative way to market their services, attract new clients and foster brand recognition. The opinion addresses coupon deals in which the lawyer directly collects discounted fees upon providing legal services as well as deals in which legal fees are paid in advance and collected for distribution by a third-party marketing organization.
“A lawyer must exercise great care to ensure that both the offer and any resulting representation comply with all obligations under the Model Rules, including avoiding false or misleading statements and conflicts of interest, providing competent and diligent representation, and appropriately handling all money received,’’ the opinion states.
While the committee believes that coupon deals can be structured to comply with the ABA Model Rules, it is less certain that group-purchasing marketing programs in which legal services are paid in advance can be ethically structured. Among the issues identified by the committee is how to properly manage payment of advanced legal fees.
The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility periodically issues ethics opinions to guide lawyers, courts and the public in interpreting and applying ABA model ethics rules to specific issues of legal practice, client-lawyer relationships and judicial behavior.
Formal Opinion 465 and other ABA ethics opinions are available on the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility website.
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