According to this article the Avvo lawyer referral program was ruled unethical.

the Avvo website offers an impermissible referral service, in violation of Rules of Professional Conduct 7.2(c) and 7.3(d), as well as improper fee sharing with a nonlawyer in violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4(a).

Joe Pastorek seems to agree:

As old Professor Rault used to teach at Loyola–usually referring to Pastorek v. Lanier Systems Co., 249 So.2d 224 (La.App. 4th Cir. 1971)–“If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a cow have? Four! The tail is still a tail, no matter what you call it!”

Whether you use language to disguise something or not, it’s legally still what it is. I guess “It is what it is” is a legal truism.

I always wondered if this was the basis of Justice Roberts’ thinking in the ACA “it’s really a tax” holding.

However, as Ernie Svenson points out:

Whenever I read about these kinds of turf war battles between the regulatory protectionists and the new innovators of legal services I’m more interested is someone (Bueller? Anyone?) explaining: (1) what harm the old rule was designed to protect against (2) is that harm still a real problem, and/or as much of a problem, and (3) does the new innovator’s system cause harm? [emphasis mine]

It’s astonishing that we lawyers never feel any obligation to revisit the reasons for a long-standing prohibition. We keep our blinders on and focus total analysis on the letter of the law.

So how exactly is Avvo’s scheme (assuming as we lawyers in Louisisna apparently must) causing some grevious public harm?

BTW, I was shocked to learn a year ago that in Florida local bar associations make referrals to attorneys and get a fee for doing so.

I was never able to get anyone to explain to me how that’s okay.

But hey maybe the reasons for laws that were passed long ago don’t matter. Our elders were wise so we should just “shut up and do what we’re told”

So my questions are:

  1. What harm the old rule was designed to protect against?
  2. Is that harm still a real problem, and/or as much of a problem?
  3. Does the new innovator’s system cause harm?
  • If you treat the Bar Association as a guild, acting in terms of guild protection, these issues are clearer.
    – Tiger Guy
    Mar 23, 2020 at 18:12

1 Answer 1


Attorneys are supposed to get paid for doing work for clients with the client's best interests at heart. Attorney #1 paying a referral fee when attorney #2 does not might influence you to recommend attorney #1 even though that is not in the best interest of the client. Replace "referral fee" with "kickback.

A bar association presumably has either an objective or, more likely, a semi-random referral method.

  • So, are you saying referral fees should be allowed as long as the basis for making the referral is either "objective" or "semi-random?" Why not outlaw making referrals that are not in the best interest of the client? Instead of the referral fee / "kickback" that "might" (or might not) "cause" you to do that? Paying lawyers by the hour "might" cause them to double bill their hours. But we outlaw the double billing, not paying them by the hour. Correct? What's the difference? Mar 23, 2020 at 0:08
  • And the bar association is one central body. Many states and the current ABA model rules do allow referral fees attorney-to-attorney. They caution that if the referred attorney screws up there may be some liability on the first attorney. Mar 23, 2020 at 0:21

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