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Illinois Clears Total Attorneys of Ethics Charges

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission yesterday notified Chicago-based Total Attorneys that its investigation of the company found no ethics violations. Connecticut lawyer Zenas Zelotes filed a a complaint last spring against the company's president, Chicago attorney Kevin Chern, alleging that the company's legal marketing program violated state ethical rules.

Totalattorneys As we've noted here before, Zelotes has filed versions of his 303-page complaint against more than 500 lawyers in 47 states. He alleges that these lawyers are obtaining referrals through and sharing fees with Total Attorneys in violation of legal ethics rules. In Zelotes' home state of Connecticut, the state's chief disciplinary counsel found cause in the complaint to file charges against five attorneys there. The state's attorney grievance committee opened hearings last month on the charges.

But Illinois' decision to dismiss the complaint makes it the fourth state to find in favor of Total Attorneys, according to information provided by the company. Hawaii and Alaska 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. No state has ruled against Total Attorneys or any of its attorney clients.

The company and the charges against it continue to provoke debate within the legal community. A number of lawyers, including my former Legal Blog Watch colleague Carolyn Elefant, defend the company's marketing program as good for consumers and for attorneys. Others, such as Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice, assert that businesses such as Total Attorneys "are a cancer in the legal profession."

As for Total Attorneys, company president Chern called the decision a victory for both small firm lawyers and consumers. "The Total Attorneys model makes Internet marketing affordable and time-efficient for small law firms and solo practitioners and improves consumer access to legal information and services," he said.

In an e-mail to me, Total Attorneys founder and CEO Edmund Scanlan said the Illinois decision has particular significance because Chern is licensed to practice there and Chicago is the company's headquarters. "We are very encouraged by the consistency of the early decisions on this issue," Scanlan said. "We continue to expect that when the remaining complaints are laid to rest, our business model will be fully vindicated and legal professionals will at last have clear guidelines regarding the ethical use of Internet marketing tools."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 10, 2009 at 09:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

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