Category Archives: Local Search Marketing

Florida Supreme Court amends referral rules to include online resources

Legal Ethics


The Florida Supreme Court has amended the state’s lawyer referral rules to include for-profit “matching” sites and lawyer directories.

The court announced its decision in a per curiam opinion dated March 8. According to the opinion, “lawyer referral services” are redefined as “qualifying providers,” which creates a single regulatory scheme that includes for-profit lawyer referral services, pooled advertising programs, lawyer directories, internet “matching” sites and lead generation services.

“How consumers find lawyers has been rapidly changing,” says Lori Holcomb, division director of Ethics and Consumer Protection at the Florida Bar, over email. “Rather than propose rule changes that may be obsolete by the time they were approved, it was decided that the rules should broaden the scope of covered entities thereby protecting the public and putting all such entities on a level playing field.”

The new rules require certain documentation and disclosures to lawyers and consumers. The changes also ban qualifying providers from requiring or pressuring lawyer participation and end the requirement that qualifying providers or participating attorneys have a minimum amount of malpractice insurance.

Other parts of the rule went untouched. Ads for qualifying providers must still comply with lawyer advertising rules and may only connect users to attorneys authorized to practice law in Florida. The rule also keeps in place the ban on fee-sharing.

While qualifying providers still have to provide names of participating attorneys to the state bar, the new rule requires this report to be filed annually instead of quarterly.

The qualifying provider definition does not apply to referrals for pro bono cases from legal aid or similar organizations. It also does not apply to the Florida Bar or voluntary bar association lawyer referral services.

This change stems from the Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services report from 2012, which concerned itself with the potential harms raised by non-lawyer owned, for-profit referral services.

The report made seven recommendations, some of which are reflected in the recent rule change. According to the majority, some issues remain unanswered.

“These amendments do not, however, resolve our concern with how some lawyer referral services operate in Florida,” reads the majority opinion, “especially those that refer clients to other professionals and occupational disciplines for services arising from the same incident.” The opinion also noted how the bar had “disregarded the findings of the Special Committee” but that “having considered the bar’s proposals, the comments filed, the bar’s response, and having had the benefit of oral argument, the court adopts the amendments to the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar as proposed by the bar.”

The court asked the bar to provide further amendments within 90 days that would prohibit a lawyer from taking a referral from such a service.

Justice C. Alan Lawson, with Justice Charles T. Canady concurring, dissented from the majority’s request for further amendments, arguing that the two referral agencies in the state at issue, which provide both legal and medical referrals, have never had an incident of misconduct.

According to Holcomb, the bar has not developed language yet to meet the court’s request.

The rule goes into effect on April 30.


Judge rules former ‘Apprentice’ contestant’s suit against Trump can proceed while he is president

Constitutional Law


President Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump is not immune from a state court lawsuit alleging he defamed a former contestant on The Apprentice by denying her allegations of unwanted kissing and groping, a New York judge has ruled.

Judge Jennifer Schechter allowed the suit by Summer Zervos in a decision on Tuesday, report the Washington Post, Politico, BuzzFeed News and Bloomberg News.

“No one is above the law,” Schechter wrote.

Lawyers for Trump had argued the Supreme Court’s 1997 decision in Clinton v. Jones did not settle the question of immunity in state court. The Supreme Court had held that federal courts were not required to stay a civil harassment suit by Paula Jones against President Bill Clinton while he was in office.

Schechter said the court’s ruling in the Jones lawsuit should be “no different for suits commenced in state court related to the president’s unofficial conduct.”

“Nothing in the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution even suggests that the president cannot be called to account before a state court for wrongful conduct that bears no relationship to any executive responsibility,” Schechter said.

Schechter also refused to dismiss the case for failure to state a cause of action.

Zervos says Trump’s conduct occurred after she was a contestant. She had contacted Trump in hopes that he could help her pursue job opportunities.

Zervos alleges Trump kissed her twice on the lips during a 2007 meeting at his office, and kissed and groped her the next time she saw him at a Beverly Hills, California, hotel, where she had gone to join him for dinner.

She spoke out about her alleged experiences after Trump’s comments to a reporter for Access Hollywood became public. Trump had said that he just starts kissing women, “and when you’re a star, they let you do it.”

Marc Kasowitz, a lawyer for Trump, told Politico in a statement that he plans “to immediately appeal and will seek a stay of the case until this issue is finally determined.”

“We disagree with this decision, which is wrong as a matter of constitutional law,” he said.

Lawyer’s failure to explain fine print nixes deal to stay silent on Trump, ex-Playboy model says



Karen McDougal. Photo by Toglenn, via Wikimedia Commons.

A former Playboy model has filed a lawsuit claiming she has no obligation to stay silent about her relationship with Donald Trump because of alleged failures by her own lawyer.

The suit by former Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal says the publisher of the National Enquirer paid $150,000 to buy and bury her story about Trump, the New York Times reports. Her lawyer’s fee agreement gave him 45 percent of the total, the suit says.

McDougal says the lawyer representing her in negotiations with the publisher, American Media Inc., didn’t tell her about the contract’s fine print and had notified Trump’s lawyer about the deal, even though Trump was not a party.

AMI publishes several magazines and tabloids, including Men’s Fitness, Star, and OK magazines.The owner of AMI is close personal friends with Trump, according to the suit.

McDougal says she agreed to the deal because it included “a highly lucrative contract” guaranteeing her two magazine covers, along with weekly print and online articles. But her lawyer “failed to tell Ms. McDougal that the contract’s fine print did not actually obligate AMI to run her columns—the central feature of AMI’s promise to create ongoing positive exposure for Ms. McDougal,” the suit says.

The suit alleges that AMI was secretly negotiating to kill other negative stories for Trump. McDougal also cites a New York Times story that said AMI and her lawyer had notified Trump lawyer Michael Cohen about the deal.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the contract is void due to fraud and illegality.

McDougal was represented by Los Angeles lawyer Keith Davidson, who also represented Stormy Daniels when she signed a confidentiality agreement with Trump’s lawyer, the New York Times reports. Daniels is seeking to void a confidentiality agreement because Donald Trump didn’t sign it.

McDougal says she fired Davidson after the Wall Street Journal wrote a story about the contract, which provided “her first inkling that she had been duped.” With pro bono help from First Amendment lawyer Ted Boutrous. McDougal negotiated an amendment allowing her to respond to “legitimate press inquiries” about Trump, the suit says.

But AMI provided a public relations team and misleading ghostwritten emails that suppressed the true story, McDougal says.

Boutrous is a lawyer with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Trump’s lawyers were seeking to hire Boutrous’ partner, Theodore Olson, to join the Trump legal team in the Russia investigation. Boutrous announced on Twitter that Olson rejected the proposal.

A spokesman for Davidson told the Times that Davidson “fulfilled his obligations and zealously advocated for Ms. McDougal to accomplish her stated goals at that time.” Additional comment would violate the attorney-client privilege, the statement says.

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