Total Attorneys Internet Advertising Model Validated by Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee

Nearly a year after a Connecticut attorney filed ethics complaints against more than 500 lawyers participating in the Total Attorneys group advertising platform, a Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee panel has declared that Connecticut attorneys using the service did not pay for recommendations in violation of Rule 7.2 of the Connecticut Rules of Professional Conduct and did not otherwise violate the Rules.

Several other states have dismissed complaints or closed investigations with no finding of wrongdoing, but Connecticut is the only state to have found probable cause and conducted a hearing on the complaints.

The Committee dismissed complaints against five Connecticut attorneys who advertised with Total Attorneys last month, but released a detailed Memorandum of Decision today.

Total Attorneys President Kevin Chern says that Connecticut has truly vindicated the company’s Internet advertising model.

“The Committee heard evidence from the state’s Chief Disciplinary Counsel and examined our business model,” he said.

“After carefully considering how consumers reach our sites, what information is collected, how territories are divided and the disclaimers provided for consumers, the Committee determined that we are not recommending attorneys but simply providing advertising.”

In its 14-page Memorandum, the Committee said, “The evidence before us did not establish that the websites ‘recommended’ the participating attorneys to viewers of the website.

To that end, we conclude that the territorial exclusivity of the arrangement was not an implied endorsement and that the fees charged to the Respondents were the appropriate costs of advertising on the websites.”

The Committee also acknowledged the First Amendment concerns associated with limitations on attorney advertising and the difficulty of applying existing Rules of Professional Conduct to Internet advertising.

The Memorandum went on to address an allegation that one of the attorneys had violated a Connecticut criminal statute that proscribes “runners” and prohibits a person from giving something of value “to any person to solicit or obtain a cause of action or client for an attorney at law”.

The Committee concluded that the statute in question was not aimed at advertising, “including the type of advertising at issue in these grievance complaints,” but at in-person contacts initiated by third parties to solicit clients for attorneys, adding that “[t]he arrangement between these Respondents and the websites does not constitute the bankruptcy equivalent of ‘ambulance chasing.’”

According to Total Attorneys’ General Counsel Pam Gracyalny,

“While Connecticut is the first state to have conducted an evidentiary hearing on the complaints, it is not the first to have explicitly determined that the Total Attorneys model is a permissible form of advertising.”

In dismissing a complaint against lawyers using Total Attorneys’ services in New Mexico, the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico determined that the attorneys were participating “in a group advertising platform, not an improper referral service.”

No state has found that any attorney has violated any of the Rules of Professional Conduct in connection with the complaints.

Zelotes v Rousseau et al, 09-0412, Memorandum of Decision