Ad committee looks at nontraditional referral services March 1, 2015 Regular News Ad committee looks at nontraditional referral services Is an online company that offers free lawyer referrals between lawyers and potential clients, but gives preferential treatment to lawyers who pay a fee, considered a lawyer referral service under Florida Bar rules?The Standing Committee on Advertising considered that issue February 10 when it looked at the operations of Lawyer.com. Company CEO Gerald Gorman contended the main purpose of Lawyer.com is to help lawyers with their online and social media efforts.Committee members wound up voting to table the issue after asking for more information, including the source of Gorman’s list of what he said are more than 40 referral services operating in Florida that do not file reports with the Bar, as required under Bar rules.Gorman called the company’s offering a free lawyer directory and referral service available to all lawyers and potential clients, but added it doesn’t fit the traditional referral service as regulated by the Bar.“We’re basically focused on helping our premium members manage their online presence,” Gorman said. “We do not believe we are a lawyer referral service under Bar rules. We do not charge for any referral. . . . We believe we are a directory.”Under questioning from committee members and Bar staff, Gorman said lawyers can join Lawyer.com for free, but it does offer a premium service for $99 a month. In addition to the online guidance, premium members get their results posted at the top of search results given to potential clients who use the site to find a lawyer, and they also have an hour to “claim” a potential client who uses Lawyer.com before free members have a chance at that case.Lawyer.com also can send emails to lawyers with details of a potential client’s case.“I’m struggling why you don’t think you apply specifically to the definition of the lawyer referral service [in Bar rules] when you’re talking to the public and you tell attorneys you are a lawyer referral service,” committee member Mike Faehner told Gorman.But Gorman said there’s no charge for consumers using the service and the vast majority of referrals go to lawyers who are not premium members and hence do not pay for them. In addition, he said lawyers cannot ask for additional referrals in exchange for paying a higher fee to Lawyer.com.“Our first objective is to try to have a good experience for the consumer and the lawyer,” Gorman said.The Lawyer.com site touts it as “Lawyer Search Experts” and also proclaims, “Find a Lawyer — 1.7 Million Lawyers — All Legal Issues.” It offers to help find lawyers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In its pitch to lawyers to become premium members, it offers to provide 10 times the leads and visibility compared to free members, better leads, and “Guaranteed Value.”Committee members ultimately decided they wanted more information, including the source and accuracy of Gorman’s list of noncomplying referral services. Gorman said he got the list from the Bar’s website.The Bar cannot directly regulate lawyer referral services. But it can prohibit Bar members from accepting referrals from services that do not comply with Bar standards. Those standards include malpractice insurance requirements, disclosure requirements, submitting quarterly reports that list all participating Florida Bar members, and complying with Bar lawyer advertising rules.The issue could come back to the committee at its March 10 meeting.