Date Last Revised: October 22, 2012
Please read this Ethics Policy carefully before using the services offered by AttorneyFee. This Ethics Policy sets forth the ethical considerations that are implicated by the services offered by AttorneyFee. AttorneyFee places a great deal of emphasis on adhering to all relevant provisions of the rules of professional conduct, both in letter and in spirit. We have never once been the subject or object of any ethical or disciplinary inquiries. On the contrary, our founders have been cited on numerous occasions as expert witnesses on legal ethics, both before the 20/20 Hearing of the American Bar Assocation, and before multiple state bar association round tables. At the end of the day, however, it is the responsibility of each attorney who uses AttorneyFee to do so in compliance with the unique ethical requirements of his or her jurisdiction of practice.
According to Rule 5.4(a) of the American Bar Assocation Model Rules of Professional Conduct, "A lawyer shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer, except" under certain circumstances specifically provided for by the rule. None of the exceptions mentioned in the rule are implicated by AttorneFeey. As such, AttorneyFee falls within the general prohibition proferred by Rule 5.4.
As a matter of common sense, one cannot divide monies that have not been paid. More specifically, a lawyer who has not yet received any fees from a client could not conceivably share those fees with a nonlawyer. AttorneyFee is not involved, whatsoever, with the process of retaining an attorney, the attorney client relationship, or the payment for services rendered. While interactions that take place on AttorneyFee may lead to retention and the payment of fees, AttorneyFee's involvement ceases long before those events occur. As such, there is no concern of fee splitting.
According to Rule 5.5(a) of the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct, "A lawyer shall not practice law in a jurisdiction in violation of the regulation of the legal profession in that jurisdiction, or assist another in doing so." This clause has generally been understood to include a prohibition against the practice of law by nonlawyers. AttorneyFee is not organized as a law firm. As such, the activity carried on by AttorneyFee falls within the prohibition outlined by Rule 5.5.
AttorneyFee does not practice law. AttorneyFee does not offer legal advice. The exact contours of "practic[ing] law" have never been defined by the courts or state bar assocations. So vague is this term that some scholars have even suggested that Rule 5.5 should be held to be unconstitutional for vagueness. This observation, however, is not necessary to reconcile AttorneyFee with Rule 5.5. The activities carried on by AttorneyFee are limited to the promotion of information about individual attorneys and their pricing structures. The promotion of information about attorneys is a public good specifically encouraged by the Model Rules. Neither the website nor its employees, owners, investors, contractors, or agents carry on any activities that could be even remotely construed as practicing law. As such, AttorneyFee is perfectly compatible with Rule 5.5.
According to Rule 7.1 of the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct, "A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading." Unlike many of the provisions of the Model Rules, this rule varies considerably by jurisdiction. In many states, the state rules specifically provide that an attorney who advertises a particular price for a specific service must honor that price for a minimum duration of time.
Attorneys who elect to publish a price on AttorneyFee must take cognizance of the local variation of Rule 7.1 in their state of practice. If you practice in a state that requires that advertised prices be honored, it is your responsibility to honor all prices listed on AttorneyFee. However, in some cases, the prices listed on AttorneyFee are not due to a decision by the attorney him/herself, but instead, are reported by a former client or a secret shopper survey. Such pricing information cannot reasonably be regarded as an advertised price, and as such, are not subject to this rule.
According to Rule 7.2(a) of the American Bar Assocation Model Rules of Professional Conduct, "a lawyer may advertise services through written, recorded or electronic communication, including public media." However, Rule 7.2(b) places some restraint upon this freedom to advertise. Rule 7.2(b) provides that "A lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer's services except that a lawyer may (1) pay the reasonable costs of advertisements or communications permitted by this Rule." Thus, the rule permits advertisement but does not permit paid recommendations.
AttorneyFee does not endorse or recommend individual attorneys in any way, shape, or form. Certain attorneys on AttorneyFee are featured in more prominent positions than others. This, however, does not constitute an endorsement in and of itself. Whenever an attorney on AttorneyFee is featured prominently, there are always several indicators that make it quite clear that the featured attorney is not being recommended. First, there is a notice stating that the attorney's prominent position is, in fact, a legal advertisement. Second, the highly featured attorney is always complimented by a plethora of competing attorneys, making it clear that the highly featured attorney is hardly the only option being offered to the viewer by AttorneyFee. For these reasons, the activities of AttorneyFee cannot reasonably be regarded of an endorsement, and as such, are consonant with Rule 7.2(b).