What is a Lawyer Referral Service?
A lawyer referral service is commonly offered by state or local bar associations as a public service to state residents. However, private, for-profit referral services also exist, but they have been the subject of controversy and questionable business practices in recent years.
The Florida Bar defines a lawyer referral service as:
“Any group or pooled advertising program operated by any person, group of persons, association, organization, or entity wherein the legal services advertisements utilize a common telephone number or website and potential clients are then referred only to lawyers or law firms participating in the group or pooled advertising program.”
Types of Lawyer Referral Service Providers in Florida
Florida residents might be familiar with local radio and television commercials advising accident injury victims to call a hotline for assistance. Two popular Florida service providers are 411-PAIN and 1-800-ASK-GARY. Both services claim to be a one-stop-shop for the legal and medical needs after a car accident. These organizations are classified as for-profit lawyer referral services. For-profit referral services are not endorsed by the state, as the Florida Bar does not have jurisdiction to enforce rules against non-attorneys, and therefore cannot verify the standards by which they operate.
Alternately, the Florida Bar operates a not-for-profit referral service intended to facilitate the process of finding a local lawyer for a specific area of law. The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service is the only state-sanctioned referral program.
Generally, any lawyer referral service should follow the same two basic steps:
- A call is answered by a lawyer referral staff member who takes the caller’s contact information and asks the caller to briefly summarize their legal issue.
- The staff member then provides the name, address, and telephone number of an attorney in the caller’s geographic vicinity who handles the type of case described by the caller.
Note – these two steps are sanctioned by the Florida Bar as referral service “best practices.” The steps followed when contacting a private, for-profit lawyer referral service may differ substantially.
Buyer Beware – Advice Regarding Lawyer Referral Services
Anyone considering contacting a lawyer referral service, particularly car accident victims, should conduct some basic internet research and explore more than one option for legal services. Combine the name of the referral service along with the term “complaints” using your favorite search engine. The results returned by your search might tell you a lot about which services you don’t want to use.
Additionally consider a few questions about the referral service you plan to contact:
- Who owns the referral service? For-profit services exist to make money. If the service is owned by chiropractors and physical therapists, there is a strong possibility that the referral service exists to direct accident injury victims toward a specific clinic group or organization in common. A service sponsored, or provided by, the Florida Bar is more likely to offer general and impartial options to callers.
- How quickly do I need a lawyer? Car accident victims are subject to legal deadlines when it comes to certain claims. However, any agency advising clients to call from the scene of an accident may not have the victim’s best interests in mind. The scene of an accident is stressful, and is likely the worst place to make a decision about legal representation. It is perfectly acceptable to research and evaluate your options and call one or two days after an accident.
- Is the referral service pushy? Nobody calling a lawyer referral service should get the feeling of being “pitched”. The referral service should be informative and provide options. Ask a family member or friend to refer you to an attorney. If you’re in contact with your referral service, mention the attorney or medical provider your family has recommended. A referral service with the clients’ best interests in mind will welcome your suggestion and have no vested interest in steering you toward one of their listed providers.