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Ethics Opinion Opens Door for Coupon Legal Offerings in NY

Marketing legal services has never been a more uncertain proposition as the Internet creates a multitude of new and inventive ways to target potential clients. We recently told you about a group of Florida lawyers who are marketing their services in a shopping mall kiosk. Now, the New York State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics has given the green light for attorneys to offer their services through online coupon sites like Groupon.com, LivingSocial.com, and others.
 
Coupon websites have created an effective niche marketing tool for many companies, so it’s no surprise that legal services are now the subject of online coupons. But these innovations – like the first television and phone book ads for legal services – create an uneasiness for many attorneys who sincerely believe the profession is demeaned by selling their services in the same manner used for pedicures or spa treatments.
 
Not surprisingly, though, the authors of the New York ethics rule did what lawyers are supposed to do – dispassionately analyze the facts in light of applicable rules and law in order to reach a conclusion that will provide guidance to members of the New York Bar. In its four-page opinion, the Bar decided that the money paid by lawyers to publicize their online coupons does not constitute an improper referral fee since it essentially is a form of advertising (which, incidentally, cannot be banned by state bar associations under the First Amendment and longstanding decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court). The opinion further notes that coupon ads, like any other lawyer advertisements, must not be false, deceptive or misleading and sets forth other restrictions that also are required of all other “normal” lawyer ads.
 
This is not the last time that bar associations will have to wrestle with how or whether to regulate attorney advertising given the plethora of options presented by the digital age. But as long as those ads meet the basic standard of the ad rules – namely, to protect the public from false, deceptive and misleading advertising – we will certainly continue to see lawyers seeking clients in new and unexpected ways.
 

Posted: 2/3/2012 12:00:00 AM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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