Florida Bar’s Special LRS Committee looks at restricting lawyer’s participation in for-profit lawyer referral services which also make medical referrals
In the recent report in The Florida Bar News regarding proposals made to The Florida Bar’s Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services which would restrict Florida lawyers’ participation in for-profit lawyer referral services which make other referrals.
At its January 13, 2012 meeting, the Special Committee reviewed several proposals that would restrict lawyers from participating in referral service which also handle referrals for non-legal services, including medical treatment. The Special Committee was created to examine alleged concerns about for-profit services which provide both medical and legal referrals. The Committee reviewed four proposals and decided to send the four proposals to Bar staff and Bar Legal Counsel Barry Richard for their review and responses before the committee’s next meeting.
The Special Committee reviewed the following proposals/options at its January 2012 meeting:
1. That a lawyer referral service shall not have (any relationship with) (any financial contractual, or ownership interest in) a medical referral service or any person, group of persons, association, organization, or entity that specifically advertises in this state to accident victims or other prospective clients primarily for the purpose of a healthcare provider filing a claim of payment of treatment of an accident or injury victim and that uses a common phone number, universal resource locator (URL), or other form of shared contact.
2. That a lawyer shall not accept client referrals from any person, entity, or service that also refers or attempts to refer clients to any type of medical provider.
3. That a lawyer shall not accept client referrals from any person, entity, or service that refers or attempts to refer clients to any other type of professional service.
4. That a lawyer shall not participate in or accept referrals from a referral service unless the participants in such referral service are members of The Florida Bar or otherwise subject to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.
The Special Committee had tentatively approved four other recommendations at an earlier meeting:
1. Requiring that any case referred by a for-profit service be to a specific lawyer at a firm, who would then be responsible for insuring that the referral service complies with the Bar rules. The Committee acknowledged that the Bar cannot directly regulate private referral services, but it can prohibit lawyers from joining services that do not comply with Bar rules, including rules on advertising.
2. Requiring lawyers, when they join a referral service, to register with the Bar and provide disclosure of the relationship with the referral service. According to the Committee, for-profit referral services are currently required to send a list of participating attorneys to the Bar, but some do not comply.
3. Prohibiting lawyers from accepting a referral from a referral service unless the initial contact is made by the potential client. The Committee said this would address situations, which came out at the committee’s public hearings, wherein people called a medical referral service seeking treatment after an accident, but were then met at a clinic by a lawyer or paralegal who told them they had to sign up with a lawyer before they could be treated.
4. Recommending that The Florida Bar, possibly as part of a larger public education project, inform the public about solicitation and referral issues, including that lawyers or their representatives are not allowed to directly contact potential clients.
Bottom line: This Florida Bar Special LRS Committee is considering proposals which would effectively eliminate a Florida lawyer’s participation in for-profit lawyer referral services which also make referrals to medical providers (or to another professional referral service that refers to medical and other providers). Further the Florida CFO’s office is also conducting its own investigation and is considering legislation to restrict or prohibit such referral services.