NORTH CAROLINA STATE BAR – ETHICS OPINION SUMMARY

  • The Ethics Opinion provides that, with certain disclosures, lawyers in North Carolina may participate in an online group legal advertising service that gives a participating lawyer exclusive rights to client leads arising from a particular territory.
  • The Opinion focuses on a company called Total Attorneys, a not-for-profit entity that provides group-advertising services to lawyers.

TOTAL ATTORNEYS BUSINESS PRACTICES:

  • In exchange for an advertising fee, Total Attorneys provides participating lawyers with a license to use one of its websites, such as TotalBankruptcy.com or TotalDivorce.com, to advertise the lawyers’ legal services.
  • The license is geographically exclusive and only one lawyer within a certain zip code is licensed to use the advertising site.
  • Participating lawyers pay a fee per contact per month to cover the costs of marketing and advertising services, including the design and operation of the website, telephone support services and customer management software.
  • A person seeking to contact a participating lawyer within his/her zip code will have the option of calling a toll free number provided by the website call center or by filling out an online contact form.
  • Upon receipt, Total Attorneys forwards the contact to the participating lawyer. 
  • The website call center does not screen or evaluate the caller or the subject legal concern, in any way.
  • A disclaimer appears on each page of the Total Attorneys websites, stating among other things, that the information submitted online will not create an attorney-client relationship and may not be protected by privilege.
  • Users are warned not to transmit “confidential, time-sensitive or privileged information.”

DETAILS OF THE OPINION:

  • Lawyers may participate in this online legal service, provided that each Total Attorneys’ website fully, accurately, and prominently discloses the following items:
    1. it provides paid group advertising services to lawyers;
    2. it is not a law firm and cannot provide legal advice;
    3. it is not a referral service;
    4. it does not recommend or endorse a particular lawyer;
    5. it does not vouch for the qualifications of participating lawyers; and
    6. each participating lawyer is licensed to use the advertising site and has paid to be the sole lawyer listed for a particular zip code.

TAKE AWAY:

  • We may be witnessing the beginning of an emerging trend.
  • The Ethics Opinion points out that the New Jersey and Arizona State Bars have also concluded that lawyers may participate in group advertising settings, so long as the requisite disclosures are made and there are certain other precautions taken.
  • This is a whole new area of marketing that was formerly closed off to the legal profession.