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Can Lawyers Sell Their Services on Groupon?

Groupon By now you've probably heard of or even used Groupon, a "daily deal"-type website that uses the power of collective buying over the Internet to provide purchasers with discounts. Launched just over two years ago, Groupon has exploded in popularity to the point that it recently received (and rejected!) a reported $6 billion buyout offer from Google.

On Friday, the Lawyerist blog pondered an interesting question: Can lawyers advertise and sell legal services on Groupon without violating ethics rules? One of the key rules involved in this discussion is  Rule 5.4(a) of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which provides that “a lawyer or law firm shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer.” As Lawyerist notes, Groupon splits the proceeds of the deal offered with the seller, a practice that would appear to run afoul of Rule 5.4(a).

However, the purpose of this rule is to "protect the lawyer's professional independence of judgment." Lawyerist argues that, as Groupon's share of the fee is strictly for its advertisement services, "no harm has come to the lawyer’s independence in practice." Based on this rule, North Carolina has already rejected the use of Groupon by lawyers. Missouri, on the other hand, has "clear[ed] the way for lawyers in the state to use the site as a way to obtain new clients," Lawyerist reports.

There are other issues associated with lawyers' use of Groupon for their services, including whether it is "professional" enough. As Thomas Druan of Druan IP Law told Lawyerist, "there might be a sense of being a 'McLawyer' if you advertise your legal services on Groupon." Seeing how we've already gotten to the point in the legal profession where we have law firms with drive-through windows, I doubt that this risk will deter all lawyers from trying out Groupon.

Posted by Bruce Carton on February 23, 2011 at 03:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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