More information on lawyers marketing legal services on group-coupon websites
By Peter H. Geraghty
The following is an update on last month's column, “State bar ethics opinions address lawyers marketing legal services on group-coupon websites.”
The Nebraska Lawyers' Advisory Committee recently issued Opinion No. 12-03 (2012). This opinion addressed a situation where a lawyer was contemplating offering a "simple will" through a group-coupon website at a discounted rate. Similar to the North Carolina, South Carolina and New York state bar opinions cited in last month's column, the Nebraska committee stated that the sharing of legal fees with a group-coupon company did not constitute fee sharing with non-lawyers so long as the percentage the company retains can be viewed as a reasonable cost of advertising.
...To the extent that the percentage charges arguably exceed the true cost of advertising, then the lawyer risks violating Rule 5.4(a). The Committee makes no recommendation as to the level of percentage charge that would be appropriate in any given case as the burden is on the lawyer to assure that the percentage is reasonable under the Rules. - Nebraska Ethics Advisory Opinion for Lawyers No. 12-03 at page 4.
The Nebraska committee also noted that the lawyer's offer of a "simple will" without a clear explanation of what the term means was potentially misleading because the public would not have a clear understanding of the distinction between a simple or complex will. Furthermore, while offering services at a discount is not necessarily prohibited, the offer must make clear which services are being offered at a discount and what if any limitations may apply.
All funds received from the group-coupon company must be placed in the lawyer's trust account until the services are rendered, and similar to the New York and Indiana opinions, all funds including the amounts retained by the company must be returned to the purchaser in the event that the lawyer was unable to undertake the representation. The Nebraska committee stated further that the group-coupon company should advise the purchaser that no lawyer-client relationship can be established until the purchaser requests the service and the lawyer has an opportunity perform a conflicts check.
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