The Virginia State Bar’s Standing Committee on Legal Ethics is seeking public comment on proposed advisory Legal Ethics Opinion 1885: Ethical Considerations Regarding a Lawyer’s Participation in an Online Attorney-Client Matching Service.
In this proposed opinion, the Committee considered whether any Rules of Professional Conduct would be violated were a lawyer to participate in an online attorney-client matching service (ACMS) operated by a for-profit lay entity wherein the lawyer
a) provides a client with limited scope legal services advertised to the public by the ACMS for a legal fee set by the ACMS;
b) allows the ACMS to collect the full, prepaid legal fee from the client, and to make no payment to the lawyer until the legal service has been completed;
c) authorizes the ACMS to electronically deposit the legal fee to the lawyer’s operating account when she completes the legal service; and
d) authorizes the ACMS to electronically withdraw from the lawyer’s bank account a “marketing fee” which, by prior agreement between the ACMS and the lawyer, is set by the ACMS and based upon the dollar amount of the legal fee paid by the client.
The Committee concludes in this proposed opinion that a lawyer may not ethically participate in such a program because the client’s advanced legal fees are to be held by a lay entity contrary to a lawyer’s obligation to safeguard her client’s funds and to refund unearned fees at the conclusion of representation. The Committee also concludes that participation in the ACMS, as described, would violate the lawyer’s ethical obligations not to share legal fees with a nonlawyer and not to give anything of value to one who recommends the lawyer’s services.
Any individual, business, or other entity may file or submit written comments in support of or in opposition to the proposed opinion with Karen A. Gould, Executive Director of the Virginia State Bar, not later than May 5, 2017. Comments may be submitted via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.orgUpdated: Mar 23, 2017
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