Most lawyers out there play by the book. Sure, some of us can get rather creative with the letter or spirit of the law. Others make sure to have hardcovers, or aluminum encased e-readers, so that the book can make more of an impact when we throw it.
But, more frequently than the profession would ever like to admit, lawyers succumb to greed and turn a blind eye to a few important rules regarding referral fees. While some may only temporarily walk or cross an ethical line, those that repeatedly trample that line until their pockets are handsomely lined are more likely to be held responsible for their actions. And as most lawyers know after their first week on the job, being held responsible for anything is rarely good.
Accountability to Public and Profession
Many of the rules of professional responsibility exist to ensure the public can trust licensed attorneys. When an attorney violates those rules by paying kickbacks for referrals in violation of those rules, it not only injures the public, and the profession's reputation, it hurts and hinders competition, which harms the public and other attorneys again.
For example, take Jason Dalley, he's a disbarred Florida attorney (or former attorney), who you probably never heard of (despite all the headlines), that was recently sentenced to serve nearly two years behind bars and pay $1.8 million in restitution for his involvement in a massive auto insurance fraud scheme. That scheme was nothing unique. Dalley got auto accident injury referrals from chiropractors and clinic owners, who had clients referred to them using questionable methods (aka "runners"), and Dalley paid kickbacks for the referrals. From 2012 to 2015, he paid almost $800,000 in these kickbacks.
Florida auto accident attorneys in the Boca Raton area wondering why their stream of potential clients may have been low during those years might actually not only have themselves to blame. When Dalley was sentenced, the judge explained that the sentence was sufficient to deter other lawyers away from schemes to get that "greedy buck." Dalley himself admitted to the court that his "passion for helping people [gave] way to greed."