Avvo, LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer Declared Off-Limits

, New Jersey Law Journal

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A joint opinion by three New Jersey Supreme Court committees has blacklisted three web-based services that match litigants with attorneys.

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  • Alfred Penn

    Rocket Lawyer, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on the opinion. A representative of LegalZoom, reached by email, did not provide comment by press time. NJSBA President Robert Hille issued a statement saying the association "has in recent years frequently expressed concern about the growing number of organizations that have sought to open the door to fee sharing, which could interfere with a lawyer‘s independent professional judgement." The NJSBA sent the inquiry "since many of our colleagues have taken advantage of the services some companies offer, without a thorough vetting of how they comport with the ethics rules," added Hille, of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown. "The association will continue to monitor developments as these issues evolve and will provide guidance to its members." The opinion was accompanied by a notice to the bar, which included an appendix listing 46 legal service plans that are registered in the state, including plans offered through labor unions, government entities and corporations.

  • Alfred Penn

    Rocket Lawyer, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on the opinion. A representative of LegalZoom, reached by email, did not provide comment by press time. NJSBA President Robert Hille issued a statement saying the association "has in recent years frequently expressed concern about the growing number of organizations that have sought to open the door to fee sharing, which could interfere with a lawyer‘s independent professional judgement." The NJSBA sent the inquiry "since many of our colleagues have taken advantage of the services some companies offer, without a thorough vetting of how they comport with the ethics rules," added Hille, of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown. "The association will continue to monitor developments as these issues evolve and will provide guidance to its members." The opinion was accompanied by a notice to the bar, which included an appendix listing 46 legal service plans that are registered in the state, including plans offered through labor unions, government entities and corporations.

  • Alfred Penn

    A joint opinion by three New Jersey Supreme Court committees has blacklisted three web-based services that match litigants with attorneys because of concerns over illicit fee-sharing and referral fees. Avvo facilitates improper fee-splitting, while LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer operate legal service plans that aren‘t registered with the judiciary, according to the June 21 opinion, issued by the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, the Committee on Attorney Advertising and the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law.

  • Alfred Penn

    The opinion decrees that "New Jersey lawyers may not participate in the Avvo legal service programs because the programs improperly require the lawyer to share a legal fee with a nonlawyer in violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4(a), and pay an impermissible referral fee in violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 7.2(c) and 7.3(d)." It adds: "The Committees further find that LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer appear to operate legal service plans through their websites but New Jersey lawyers may not participate in these plans because they are not registered with the Administrative Office of the Courts in accordance with Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3(e)(4)(vii)." All three companies have defended their services. The New Jersey State Bar Association sent an inquiry to the ACPE, asking whether lawyers may "participate in certain online, non-layer, corporately owned services," and named Avvo, LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer specifically. According to the opinion, Avvo offers "Avvo Advisor"—through which customers buy 15-minute phone conversations with a lawyer for a $40 flat rate, of which Avvo keeps a $10 marketing fee—and "Avvo Legal Services," which allows customers to pay flat fees to Avvo for legal services provided by affiliated lawyers, after which Avvo pays the lawyer but keeps a marketing fee. LegalZoom offers a monthly subscription to legal services for a flat fee, through "Business Advantage Pro" and "Legal Advantage Plus," through which customers get 30-minute phone consultations with lawyers of their choosing, or the "first available" lawyer. Lawyers do not pay to participate in LegalZoom, and LegalZoom keeps its subscription fees, the committees said. Rocket Lawyer, which offers "limited legal advice on document-related matters" and a free 30-minute phone consultation, does not take payments from lawyers to join—though the lawyers "agree to offer a discounted fee for additional services"—and does not share its subscription fees with the lawyers, according to the opinion. LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer‘s services "appear to be legal service plans," which are permissible under RPC 7.3(e)(4), but "as of the date of this Joint Opinion … neither organization has registered a legal service plan with the Administrative Office of the Courts," the committees said.

  • Alfred Penn

    A joint opinion by three New Jersey Supreme Court committees has blacklisted three web-based services that match litigants with attorneys because of concerns over illicit fee-sharing and referral fees. Avvo facilitates improper fee-splitting, while LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer operate legal service plans that aren‘t registered with the judiciary, according to the June 21 opinion, issued by the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, the Committee on Attorney Advertising and the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law.

  • Alfred Pennyworth

    full article without login (= is equals sign in URL) - "njlawjournal.com/id=1202790850219/Avvo-LegalZoom-Rocket-Lawyer-Declared-OffLimits?mcode=0&curindex=0&curpage=ALL"

  • Alfred Pennyworth

    full article without login (= is equals sign in URL) - "njlawjournal.com/id=1202790850219/Avvo-LegalZoom-Rocket-Lawyer-Declared-OffLimits?mcode=0&curindex=0&curpage=ALL"

  • Alfred Pennyworth

    njlawjournal.com/id=1202790850219/Avvo-LegalZoom-Rocket-Lawyer-Declared-OffLimits?mcode=0&curindex=0&curpage=ALL

  • Alfred Pennyworth

    njlawjournal.com/id=1202790850219/Avvo-LegalZoom-Rocket-Lawyer-Declared-OffLimits?mcode=0&curindex=0&curpage=ALL

  • Kenneth Vercammen

    I read The opinion also holds that marketing fees lawyers pay to Avvo are not for advertising but amount to an "impermissible referral fee" by the definition contained in RPCs 7.2(c) and 7.3(d).

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