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Groupon-Type Deals Are ‘Fraught with Peril’ for Lawyers, Indiana Ethics Opinion Says

Posted Mar 16, 2012 11:34 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: An Indiana ethics opinion takes a dim view of obtaining clients through Groupon-type arrangements.

The opinion warns that such arrangements are “fraught with peril” and probably unethical, according to the ABA/BNA Lawyers’ Manual of Professional Conduct. The opinion (PDF) by the Indiana State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee bucks the trend, the story says.

Group coupons and daily deals could violate Indiana ethics rules partly because they allow a nonlawyer to create the lawyer-client relationship, the opinion finds. Lawyers should exercise independent professional judgment when deciding whether to represent a client, the opinion says, and that doesn’t happen when the representation decision is made by a person purchasing a coupon. Allowing the coupon company or client to establish the relationship may also violate a rule that says lawyers can’t delegate that duty to nonlawyer assistants.

The opinion also expresses concern about allowing a group coupon company to hold client funds and about paying the companies to produce clients.

A footnote summarizes ethics opinions in other states. South Carolina has approved the use of daily deal websites, with words of caution; New York says lawyers who use group coupons should give full refunds if legal services can't be provided. The footnote stated that Missouri reportedly accepts such coupons, but Sara Rittman, Legal Ethics Counsel for the Advisory Committee of the Supreme Court of Missouri, says that the footnote is incorrect, and that Missouri does not allow these coupons.

Updated at 11:40 a.m. to add Sara Rittman's comment.

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