LegalMatch Ethics


The Professional Ethics Committee of the State Bar of Texas recently emitted a new opinion in support of allowing Texas lawyers to participate in for-profit Internet websites that help match attorneys with people seeking legal representation. In Opinion 573, released August 11, 2006, the Texas Ethics Committee, announced that it permits automated online legal matching services and that lawyers in Texas could ethically use this type of service.

That’s from the LegalMatch ethics FAQs, and while it’s true as far as it goes, it’s not the whole truth; the omitted bits should be really important to a lawyer who is thinking about throwing his money away with LegalMatch (because it would really suck to both throw your money away and lose your license).

Opinion 573 requires that, for a Texas lawyer to participate in a service like LegalMatch, the service must, among other things:

take[] sufficient steps to ensure that a reasonable potential client understands…that the Service makes no assertions about the quality of the lawyers included in the Service. The Service must not state that it is making referrals of lawyers or describe itself in such a way that would cause a reasonable potential client to believe the Service is selecting, referring and recommending the participating lawyers. The Service must ensure that a reasonable potential client either understands that the Service is open to all licensed lawyers or, if there are limits on the number or qualifications of lawyers who may participate in the Service, understands the nature of those limits.

Does LegalMatch not “describe itself in such a way that would cause a reasonable client to believe the Service is selecting, referring and recommending the participating lawyers”? Let’s see.

Wow.

They say it again, and again, and again, so clearly, LegalMatch prescreens its lawyers. Not only are they in good standing with their states’ bar associations, but they also “meet our membership standards and requirements.” A reasonable client would believe that LegalMatch is selecting, referring, and recommending the lawyers.

But wait. Below the fold in LegalMatch’s terms and conditions, it says:

LegalMatch does not screen or vouch for any of its Users

Providing a service where potential clients and legal professionals can meet does not imply an endorsement of any subscribing attorney or service provider. LegalMatch makes no representation concerning an attorney’s qualifications (except that the attorney was licensed to practice law in at least one state at the time of registration), nor does it sanction statements an attorney may post on the system. LegalMatch makes no representation concerning the qualifications of non-attorney legal service providers. Your case will not be viewed by non-attorney legal providers without your consent.

In light of the many times that LegalMatch claims to pre-screen lawyers, would these terms (which nobody ever reads) lead a reasonable client to believe that LegalMatch is not choosing and recommending the lawyers?

Maybe.

Are you willing to bet your reputation and your livelihood on “maybe”?


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