Illinois Closes Ethics Investigation

UPDATE: We recently released a press release stating that the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) had advised Total Attorneys’ President Kevin Chern that “it had found no wrongdoing” in its investigation into the allegations raised in a complaint filed by a Connecticut attorney. We would like to clarify and correct that statement. Rather than state that the ARDC had “found no wrongdoing” we should have stated that it closed its investigation “with no finding of wrongdoing”. Although the ARDC advised that it had decided to close its investigation with no action against Mr. Chern, it did not make any affirmative findings. We apologize for the inaccuracy.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) today advised Chicago attorney and President of Total Attorneys, Inc. Kevin Chern that it had closed its investigation of a complaint filed against him last spring with no finding of wrongdoing.

The complaint, filed by a Connecticut attorney, was part of a sweeping effort by the complainant to shut down pay-per-performance marketing in the legal profession.

The same attorney filed complaints against more than 500 attorneys in 47 states, alleging that those attorneys were in violation of their various states’ ethical canons simply because they were advertising with Total Attorneys.

Total Attorneys General Counsel Pam Gracyalny called the complainant’s actions unprecedented, saying “there has never before been an ethical complaint filed nationwide on the basis of a single model.”

The complaints and ensuing investigations have caused a buzz in the legal community and general business press because the issue highlighted the gray zones surrounding Internet marketing issues in the legal industry.

Because most states have not amended or interpreted their rules to account for the new opportunities and business norms made possible by current technology, attorneys making use of new media have been traveling uncharted waters for several years.

The Illinois decision represents a significant step toward resolving the unanswered questions regarding attorney advertising on the Internet and providing clear direction to attorneys who want to maximize their accessibility to prospective clients through new technology.

Chern called the decision a victory for both small firm attorneys and consumers.

“The Total Attorneys model,” he said, “makes Internet marketing affordable and time-efficient for small law firms and solo practitioners and improves consumer access to legal information and services.”

Illinois is the fourth state to reach a favorable conclusion with no finding of wrongdoing.

Hawaii and Alaska have already determined that there was no basis for action on the complaints, while a North Carolina panel dismissed a complaint against Chern for the alleged unauthorized practice of law.

The Hawaii Office of Disciplinary Counsel also noted that the complaint raised serious commercial free speech issues. No state has determined that either Chern or any of the company’s attorney clients has violated the law or applicable rules of professional conduct.

In an unrelated case, a Louisiana District Court recently found proposed attorney advertising rules unconstitutional as applied to Internet marketing, noting that “Internet advertising differs significantly from advertising in traditional media.”

Total Attorneys founder and CEO Ed Scanlan says,

“We always expected our advertising model to be vindicated, and are encouraged by the fact that every state that has made a determination with regard to the complaints has decided in our favor. When the dust settles, we expect that these rulings will play an important role in establishing that attorneys can use new technology and new media to promote their practices in a manner that is entirely consistent with their ethical obligations and the rules that govern their profession.”