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Pay Per Lead for Attorneys

Since attorneys focus on solving a very specific type of legal problem for a very specific type of client, what if the attorney could pay for leads from those ideal clients? To be most beneficial, the leads would come in at the right time which is when the client begins their search for an attorney and when the attorney is ready to take on a new case.

From the client's perspective, a pay per lead service would help the client find qualified attorneys who are ready to take their case. The client would leave a message or fill out a questionnaire so that the most important information about the case could be presented to the attorney.

The pay per lead provider would have the task of making sure that only qualified attorneys could see the information or respond to the lead.

Although the technology to create such a system might exist, no company has come close to getting it right for the legal market. Automating the process is complicated by the fact that each practice area has different requirements. Any system that works for generating leads for a criminal defense attorney, would not work for generating leads for a family law or personal injury lawyer.

To match a good lead with a good attorney, the pay per lead system has to filter out the bad leads and the bad attorneys.

The bigger problem occurs when the "pay per lead" model ignores the complicated maze of bar regulations for attorney advertisements that vary in each state.  When it comes to the bar rules restricting attorney advertising, California tends to have the least restrictive bar rules and Florida tends to have the most restrictive bar rules.

Over the years, many pay per lead providers have given up trying to meet the demands of the state bar regulatory entities that have voiced objections.

At Lawyer Legion, we pay attention to pay-per-lead advertising services for law firms in the United States. We know that lead generation services play an important role in helping the public find a qualified attorney. 


Top Pay Per Lead (PPL) Forms of Advertising

The top companies currently providing some form of a "pay per lead" service to attorneys include:

  • Google's Local Service Ads (LSAs) for Lawyers
    • currently available only in limited practice areas and select cities
    • sign up and login to Google Local Service Ads for law firms
    • connect with potential clients searching on Google for the legal services your law firm offers
    • ads only show up for customers in your area
    • attorneys pay only when the consumer contacts the attorney directly through the ad
    • LSAs have not yet developed a good way to verify the attorney, their location, or primary practice area
  •  Thumbtack
    • provides pay per lead services for more than just attorneys
    • attorneys pick the practice areas and budget
    • only pay for the leads that are accepted and reject undesirable leads
    • still has no good way to vertify the attorney, their locaiton, or primary practice area
  • Nolo's Premium Pay-Per-Lead Subscription
    • plan the pay-per-lead campaign with a proposal generator
    • the proposal generator shows the expected lead volumes calculated from historical data and based on lead type, geographical coverage, and network availability
    • explore "what-if" pricing scenarios after adding or subtracting case types and geographical coverage to build the ideal lead generation campaign
    • find actual lead submissions from consumers.
  • LegalZoom
    • the "Business Advisory Plan" provides the consumer with year-round help from an attorney for certain practice areas of the law including contracts, NDSs, service agreements, statements of work, tax advice, legal forms, copyright, and trademarks
    • the "Legal Advantage" personal legal plan offers unlimited 30-minute consultations on new legal matters for one low monthly fee for estate planning, family matters, finance, bankruptcy, employment issues, and tax advice
  • Unbundled Attorney
    • connects clients and attorneys for limited scope or discrete task representation such as preparing court documentation or drafting written arguments, or advising the client on filing and court procedures
  • FindLaw
    • offers a 12-month program for lead generation that focuses on specific practice areas of the law and geographical areas
  • LegalMatch
    • attorneys join as a member of the service for a flat monthly fee and a long term contract
    • members have access to view leads for certain practice areas and locations
  • 4LegalLeads
    • has been serving associates since the earliest days of online lead generation in 2001
    • provides exclusive leads
    • use the back office portal to target practice areas and locations
    • was named as a Premium Solutions Provider with ABA Law Practice Division

Problems with Pay-Per-Lead Services for Attorneys

When using a pay per lead service, the attorney has to decide whether to trust the lead generation company with their law firm's reputation. Many attorneys complain about lead generation services because they have little control over:

  1. the quality of the leads
  2. whether unsavory or deceptive advertising practices were used to generate the lead
  3. whether the lead generation methods violate bar rules for attorney advertising

Some pay per lead programs provide exclusive leads and others distribute their leads to more than one attorney at once. When the leads are distributed to more than one attorney, the attorneys might compete with one another to land the lead.

The biggest program with pay per lead providers is that even when they get a quality lead, they often have a problem determining the location and category for the lead so that it goes to the right attorney or group of attorneys.


How are Leads Generated?

Quality control is often the biggest problem with many of the pay per lead providers. Some providers use keywords such as "free" or "pro bono" to generate the cheapest and lowest quality leads. Other providers rely on "co-registration" or "send more information" options to send a lead from one site to another.

Even more problematic, providers sometimes use an incentive to convince the lead to submit their contact information which results in a lot of unqualified leads.


Are Lawyer Referral Services Too Expensive?

Attorneys also complain that paying for leads is more expensive than other forms of online advertising including:

  1. the law firm website that utilizes the best SEO strategies for the niche practice area
  2. business profiles for the law firm on platforms such as Google My Business (GMB)
  3. social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  4. listings in directories for specialty bar association and legal organizations
  5. commercial on-line directories of attorneys
  6. targeted "pay per click" ads on Google, Bing, or Facebook

Bar Rules for Pay Per Lead Services

Attorneys are bound by the rules of professional conduct in their state for advertisements and other types of communications to the public. A violation of the bar rules when advertising can result in getting "correspondence" from the bar or facing disciplinary action. Some states consider pay per lead or other types of lead generation services to be a type of paid lawyer referral service.

Model Rule 7.2 and Comment 5 prohibit:

  1. paying anyone to recommend a lawyer’s services
  2. splitting fees with non-lawyers
  3. using misleading advertisements

Bar associations in several states, including Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, argued that on-demand service providers like Avvo, LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer provided services that violated ethics rules around fee-splitting and referrals.

Three of New Jersey’s Supreme Court committees issued a joint June 2017 opinion restricting local attorneys from participating in the legal services plans offered by Avvo, LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer. The opinion noted that by charging a marketing fee for lawyers participating in its plan, Avvo was in violation of New Jersey’s Rule of Professional Conduct for fee-splitting and referral services found in Rule 5.4(a), 7.2(c) and 7.3(d).

Even for the plans that did not charge fees to attorneys on their plans, including LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, the committees still found their plans violated ethics rules because they were not registered with the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts. LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer ultimately registered with the state while Avvo sought to have the opinion reviewed by the New Jersey Supreme Court. In June of 2018, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to weigh in.

The New Jersey Committee on Attorney Advertising issued an opinion that "pay per lead" ads for lawyers were not inherently unethical, but must nevertheless conform to professional standards. In other words, the New Jersey bar rules on advertisements already prohibit ads that are false or misleading, create unreasonable expectations, or result in an impermissible fee sharing arrangement.


Lawyer Referral Services vs. the Pay Per Lead Model

Long before internet marketing existed, lawyer referral services managed by local bar associations provided a similar service.

Today, those lawyer referral services have a difficult time showing up online. In many states, the bar rules attempt to protect lawyer referral services managed by local bar associations or give them some marketing advantage.


The Benefits of Lawyer Matching Services According to the FTC

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) encourages competition in the licensed professions, including the legal profession. The FTC has "expertise is the analysis of the competitive implications of regulatory restrictions on advertising in the professions." See FTC's Comments on a Request for Ethics Opinion Regarding Online Attorney Matching Programs.

The FTC has noted that "[o]nline legal matching services are a valuable option...likely to reduce consumers' costs for finding legal representation and have the potential to increase competition among attorneys. Further, we see no likely prospect of consumer harm that would justify the prohibition of online legal matching services...." Id.

Furthermore, the FTC noted several benefits to lawyer matching services include:

"The information sent to inquiring clients is likely to allow consumers to compare the price and quality among several competing attorneys more cheaply than other methods of comparison.

For example, a referral service that assigns the next attorney on a predetermined list to a client requires the client to meet the attorney and then seek a second referral simply to formulate a basis for comparison.

Similarly, a directory such as the yellow pages is time-intensive because it requires the client to search for several attorneys and formulate his or her own method to evaluate lawyers.

Indeed, these options may be more costly and yield far less relevant information than the lawyer matching services under review."

Id. 

The FTC recognized that by lowering consumers' costs for obtaining information about price and quality of legal services, "online legal matching services are likely to allow consumers who use them to pay lower prices and/or obtain higher quality legal services than they would have had they used their next best alternative means for identifying a legal service provider." Id.


Additional Resources

‘PAY-PER-LEAD’ PLAN ON ITS WAY TO THE BAR BOARD OF GOVERNORS - An article published on March 15, 2017, in The Florida Bar News explains why the Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Advertising referred a question to the Bar Board of Governors about a fee schedule for a “pay-per-lead” plan. The committee was concerned about whether the plan would comply with Florida Bar Rule 4-5.4, which prohibits sharing fees with nonlawyers. The article was published prior to the Florida Supreme Court adopting the new bar rules for “qualified providers.” 

OPINION SPELLS OUT HOW TO PAY FOR-PROFIT QUALIFYING PROVIDERS - In an article dated January 1, 2019, the Florida Bar News explains why the Board of Governors unanimously approved an ethics advisory opinion regarding prohibited payment methods charged by for-profit qualifying providers, which includes pay per lead providers. The opinion explains prohibitions on using pay per lead or other qualifying providers that are paid in a manner that constitutes an impermissible division of fees with a non-lawyer. According to the opinion, the following payment methods were found to be generally "impermissible”:

  • A charge calculated as a percentage of the fee received by a lawyer.
  • A charge calculated as a percentage of the client’s recovery in the matter.
  • A charge based on the perceived value of the case referred to or accepted by a participating lawyer.
  • A flat charge that differs based on the perceived value of the case referred to or accepted by a participating lawyer.
  • A flat charge per case accepted by a participating lawyer.
  • A flat charge per case accepted by a participating lawyer that differs based on the type of matter (e.g., personal injury versus family law).

This article was last updated on Thursday, April 23, 2020.

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