Referral Services Run by Avvo, LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer

A joint opinion by three New Jersey Supreme Court committees bans web-based services that match litigants with attorneys run by Avvo, LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer due to ethics concerns.

A bar association in New Jersey requested a formal opinion on “whether it is ethical for New Jersey lawyers to participate in on-line lawyer referral services offered by Avvo, Legal-Zoom, and Rocket Lawyer for customers of the companies.” The inquiry was jointly considered by the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Committee on Attorney Advertising, and Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law. The Committees issued a joint opinion backlisting the referral services. See, ACPE Joint Opinion 732; CAA Joint Opinion 44; and, UPL Joint Opinion 54

The Committees found that New Jersey lawyers may not participate in the Avvo on-line lawyer referral service. The Avvo program improperly requires a lawyer to share a legal fee with a non-lawyer in violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4(a). Avvo also requires lawyers to pay an impermissible referral fee in violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2(c) and 7.3(d).

The Committees also found that LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer avoided the problems that plagued the Avvo website but operated legal service plans through their websites that were not registered with the Administrative Office of the Courts as required by Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3(e)(4)(vii). Therefore, the Committees found that New Jersey lawyers may not participate in the legal plans offered by LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer.

Joint Opinion 732 of the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics is annexed here – ACPE Joint Opinion 732

 

 

David Wingate is an elder law attorney at the Elder Law Office of David Wingate, LLC. The elder law office services clients with powers of attorneys, living wills, Wills, Trusts, Medicaid and asset protection. The Elder Law office has locations in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, Maryland.

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