Today, our Professional Ethics Committee issued two opinions concerning whether lawyers may ethically participate in electronic marketing services.
The first one is in response to an inquiry from a lawyer on whether he could participate in Avvo Legal Services, which would require the payment of a “marketing fee.” The opinion finds that a lawyer who pays Avvo a marketing fee is making an improper payment for a recommendation in violation of Rule 7.2(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Having made this conclusion, the Committee did not address other bases for finding the payment improper or any ethical issues related to Avvo beyond the scope of the inquiry. It noted that “The questions we have addressed have generated vigorous debate both within and outside the legal profession.” It said that “at this point we conclude that, under Avvo’s current structure, lawyers may not pay Avvo’s marketing fee for participating in Avvo Legal Services.” Thus, the opinion clarifies a question that has previously been unanswered in New York. The opinion is Number 1132, and can accessed atNYSBA.org/EthicsOpinion1132.
The second opinion outlines how a service like Avvo’s could be in compliance with New York’s Rules of Professional Conduct. It is intended to guide lawyers who wish to use these types of services in the future. The Committee, noting the variation in the structure of many web based services, says in the opinion that it “does not attempt to address every factual permutation that may exist.” Rather, it explains how such a service can operate within the Rules and examines the issues that a lawyer using a service needs to consider. The opinion is Number 1131, and can be accessed at NYSBA.org/EthicsOpinion1131.
Sharon Stern Gerstman
President, New York State Bar Association