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Florida Amends Referral Rules to Include For-Profit Online Sources

When it comes to lawyers in the state of Florida, playing fast and loose with the rules seems to be in line with what the internet has come to expect from the entire state.

However, in an uncharacteristic move for the state's reputation (but definitely in keeping with the brilliant minds over at the Florida Bar), the state's supreme court amended the rules for qualified lawyer referral services to incorporate non-lawyer owned, for-profit, online services and directories. Prior to the state's supreme court handing down the new rule, the Florida Bar was asked to amend the rules to completely prohibit lawyers within the state from accepting referrals from non-qualified sources and non-members of the state bar. The bar had a better idea though.

What's Going On Exactly?

Basically, as a result of a 2012 investigation, the state supreme court sought to shut down for-profit, and online, legal referral and directory services by prohibiting lawyers from accepting cases through these types of services. One of the more prominent issues was that these types of services were generally not run by Florida attorneys, and hence, could not come within the regulation of the state bar. Naturally, this results in ethical concerns over the protection of the profession and the consumer public, including improper solicitation, undisclosed conflicts of interest, and even the unlicensed practice of law.

The new rules now allow these services, which have continued to proliferate thanks to rapid advances in technology, to be brought within the reach of the state bar's regulation by requiring each type of service to become a "qualified" provider. By doing so, the bar can require the providers disclose the same sort of information more traditional qualified providers, like non-profit groups and associations, have been required to submit. The new rule also requires that qualified providers maintain malpractice coverage.

Lawyer/Doctor Combo Referral Services

Notably, the new rules currently leave one referral source in limbo. Apparently, there are a couple services that will refer legal consumers to both an attorney and a doctor. Fortunately for these services, the door has been left open, as the state's high court is asking the bar to come back within 90 days with a proposal for these types of services.

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