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Legal Ethics

Panel OKs Total Attorneys Web Ads With ‘Very Little Margin for Error’

Posted Feb 8, 2010 3:45 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Updated: An Internet advertising scheme in which lawyers pay $65 per referral for names of potential clients passes ethical muster with "very little margin for error," an attorney discipline panel says in an opinion today.

Explaining its ruling (PDF) last month that the Total Attorneys Inc. advertising does not violate lawyer ethics rules, the Statewide Grievance Committee for Connecticut focuses on the fact that the Web referral scheme does not recommend lawyers and on the nature of Internet advertising.

The opinion also notes that lawyers who sign up for the service, in exchange for an exclusive arrangement concerning the county corresponding to the attorney's ZIP code, pay for the referrals regardless of whether they result in an actual representation.

"Potential clients had to take the affirmative step of visiting the websites and requesting the contact before their name was given to the participating attorney," the opinion points out. And "the websites contained disclaimers to indicate that no recommendation about the participating attorney was made."

Partner David Atkins of Pullman & Comley argued the motion to dismiss on behalf of the accused lawyers, the firm notes in a statement e-mailed to the ABA Journal.

He hails the committee's opinion, which also found that the attorneys' payment for Internet advertising services had not violated a Connecticut state law prohibiting lawyers from paying nonlawyers to procure a client, as a victory pointing the way toward further vindication in other jurisdictions.

"The Connecticut hearing committee—the first attorney disciplinary tribunal in any of the 47 states in which identical complaints were filed to both conduct an evidentiary hearing and to issue a decision—completely rejected each of the disciplinary charges against our clients," Atkins says in the statement. "Most important, the decision clears the charged attorneys from claims of professional misconduct that have hung over them since last April."

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Ethics Win for Lawyers Who Paid for Leads from Total Attorneys Site"

Updated on Feb. 9 to include information from Pullman & Comley statement.

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