VSB Standing Committee On Legal Ethics Seeking Public Comment On Legal Ethics Opinion 1846
Pursuant to Part Six: Section IV, Paragraph 10(c)(iii) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Virginia State Bar’s Standing Committee on Legal Ethics (“Committee”) is seeking public comment on proposed advisory Legal Ethics Opinion 1846, Is it Ethical for a Lawyer to Become a Member of a Lead-Sharing Organization?
This proposed opinion addresses a hypothetical where a lawyer wishes to become a member of a lead-sharing organization, either for-profit or not-for-profit, where members pay a $500 membership fee and meet once a week to pass leads to other members. These leads represent potential clients that may have been actively solicited by the lead-passing member regarding whether they know of a particular professional in the lead-receiving member’s industry.
In this proposed opinion, the Committee finds that the practice of passing leads or trading referrals amounts to an implicit quid pro quo for services, in violation of Rules 7.3(d) and 7.2(c). Application of Rules 7.3(d) and 7.2(c)(2) also prohibit a lawyer’s participation in a for-profit lawyer referral service or legal service organization. In addition, the rationale against prohibiting a lawyer from making such quid pro quo references is that such activity potentially compromises the professional judgment of the lawyer, in violation of Rule 5.4 Participation in a lead-sharing organization also potentially creates a conflict when the lawyer’s membership is dependent on the number of leads the member lawyer passes, thereby impacting the lawyer’s freedom to choose the most appropriate specialty provider for a client in violation of Rule 1.7(a)(2). Lastly, a lead-sharing plan that requires the lawyer to disclose information relating to the representation of a client, i.e. the mere disclosure of a client’s name and specific need in certain circumstances, may be enough to violate Rule 1.6 without consent of the client.
Inspection and Comment
The proposed advisory opinion may be inspected at the office of the Virginia State Bar, 707 East Main Street, Suite 1500, Richmond, Virginia 23219-2800, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Copies of the proposed advisory opinion can be obtained from the offices of the Virginia State Bar by contacting the Office of Ethics Counsel at 804-775-0557, or can be found at the Virginia State Bar’s website at http://www.vsb.org.
Any individual, business or other entity may file or submit written comments in support of, or in opposition to, the proposed advisory opinion by filing ten copies with Karen A. Gould, the Executive Director of the Virginia State Bar, not later than December 17, 2008.