Attorney-client matching provides both clients and attorneys with important information before the parties actually speak. This saves time and helps both clients and attorneys make better decisions. In 2003, the Utah State Bar recognized the benefits of attorney-client matching services and formed a partnership with an attorney matching company. The partnership allowed Utah lawyers to receive screened cases of potential new clients. Utah citizens also gained an excellent service that allowed them to choose a pre-screened Utah lawyer rather than simply receive a referral.
It is important to remember that attorney-client matching services are not referral services. A referral service recommends an attorney to potential clients by picking the attorney’s name from a list and providing that name and other information to a potential client. This service and recommendation is often provided by state and local bar associations or organizations approved by the appropriate bar association.
However, unlike a referral service, attorney-client matching services never suggest, recommend, or release a name of a specific attorney to clients. Attorney-client matching services believe that a client should make an informed choice rather than receive a recommendation. They simply provide a free legal resource for clients to securely submit their claim. After the claim is submitted, screened and approved attorneys are given a chance to respond. Last, the client, and only the client, chooses the attorney right for them. There are no recommendations, suggestions, or referrals.
When attorneys compete, clients win. This fact is increasingly being recognized by governments, government agencies, and courts. For example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in response to the Supreme Court of Alabama’s invitation to comment on the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, stated that legal matching “encourages competition in the licensed professions, including the legal profession, to the maximum extent compatible with other state and federal goals.”
Additionally, on May 26, 2006, the FTC commented on the State Bar of Texas Professional Ethics Committee’s question as to whether it is ethical for a Texas attorney to participate in an online legal matching service. The FTC determined that “online legal matching services are a valuable option for Texans: they are likely to reduce the consumers’ cost for finding legal representation and have the potential to increase competition among attorneys.”
Additionally, commenting on one legal matching website, the North Carolina State Bar Ethics Committee held that: “Unlike the passive recipient of a referral from a lawyer referral service, a user of the company’s website must evaluate the information and offers he receives from potentially suitable lawyers and decide for himself which lawyer to contact. Thus, the potential harm to the consumer of a pure lawyer referral service is avoided because the company does not decide which lawyer is right for the client.”
It is important to recognize the differences between legal matching services and referral services. Referral systems were extremely helpful for the public when researching attorneys was very difficult to do. Now, however, people can go online and review websites to learn about an attorney’s practice, services, and reputation.
Referral services were designed to provide people with assistance before the Internet. However, if a person still wants someone to choose an attorney for them, then they should call their local bar association. If a person would rather review attorneys, let them complete, and make a choice, then they should consult an legal matching system.