Federal Trade Commission Releases Favorable Opinion On Client-Attorney Matching Services

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Online legal matching services described as having potential cost savings for consumers seeking information on the price and quality of legal services.

The Federal Trade Commission recently released its position regarding the great potential of online legal matching services to benefit consumers seeking legal counsel. The FTC determined that online legal matching services, which help consumers find legal representation, have the potential to lower the costs of obtaining information about the price and quality of legal services.

In a seven page letter dated May 26, 2006, from the FTC Office of Policy Planning, Bureau of Competition, and Bureau of Economics, the committee wrote to the Professional Ethics Committee of the Texas State Bar giving their opinion on whether or not it is ethical for Texas attorneys to participate in online legal matching services. Bar Association Ethical Rule 7.03 prohibits lawyers from paying a non-lawyer to solicit clients, except for paying normal advertising fees. The question at hand was: Does Rule 7.03 also prohibit lawyers from participating in online legal matching services? The opinion of the FTC, supported by three different internal departments and agreed to by a unanimous vote of commission members, is “No, it does not.”

According to Laurie Ziffrin, CEO of LegalMatch, the nation’s leading online legal matching service, “This opinion is not only good for Texas consumers but good for everyone in the US who might need an attorney. The FTC believes that online legal matching is a valuable option for Texans as it would likely reduce legal costs. This opinion will resonate with bar associations nationwide.”

Professional services have long struggled with the ethics behind advertising and marketing their services. The Bates vs. State Bar of Arizona decision by the Supreme Court in 1977 allowed attorneys to market themselves proactively. From then on, Bar Associations and individual attorneys alike have had difficulty on deciding where to draw the line. With this opinion, the question has been made easier to answer.

The bar associations of North Carolina and South Carolina, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court have already issued ethics opinions explicitly allowing online legal matching services to operate. And, the Utah State Bar has partnered with LegalMatch to help those seeking legal assistance access pre-screened Utah lawyers.

Online legal matching is a relatively new industry. In 1999, LegalMatch, based in San Francisco, CA., pioneered the first online legal matching service. Ziffrin says, “LegalMatch is proud to be actively working with the FTC, Texas Bar, and other bar associations around the country to clarify the value of online attorney/client matching and further our mutual goal of providing the best access to legal representation for all Americans.”

For a detailed copy of the FTC’s opinion in letter regarding this matter, please use the following URL: (http://www.ftc.gov/os/2006/05/V060017CommentsonaRequestforAnEthicsOpinionImage.pdf)

About LegalMatch

Established in 1999, with a formal site-launch in 2000, LegalMatch is the nation’s premier provider of online legal services. In 1999, San Francisco-based LegalMatch pioneered the legal matching industry, which it continues to dominate. For more information regarding the company, please contact Don Keane, Vice-President of Marketing at (415) 946-0855.


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