We get this question a whole lot – Is what buying leads ethical for a lawyer, or will I get in trouble with the American Bar Association?
In a short answer yes, per the American Bar Association lawyers can buy leads.
To get a bit more detail. According to American Bar Association rule 7.2: which talks about paying others to recommend a lawyer.
“ A lawyer may pay others for generating client leads, such as Internet-based client leads, as long as the lead generator does not recommend the lawyer, any payment to the lead generator is consistent with Rules 1.5(e) (division of fees) and 5.4 (professional independence of the lawyer), and the lead generator’s communications are consistent with Rule 7.1 (communications concerning a lawyer’s services). To comply with Rule 7.1, a lawyer must not pay a lead generator that states, implies, or creates a reasonable impression that it is recommending the lawyer, is making the referral without payment from the lawyer, or has analyzed a person’s legal problems when determining which lawyer should receive the referral.”
In other words, what that means is that as long as the lead generation company (the third-party company that’s generating the lead – by lead I mean somebody who has visited a third-party company’s website and filled out a form asking for a free consultation with an attorney to discuss a particular legal problem) doesn’t specifically recommend or make claims about the legal expertise/qualifications of their law firm client, and discloses to the person asking for help that the lawyers receiving the leads have paid to participate and that no legal assessment of their situation has been made by filling out the form, buying leads is ethical for lawyers.
A lead is just an inquiry, and somebody who wants to discuss their situation with a legal professional. In this scenario, the lead generation company is merely the conduit through which the consumer the person looking for an attorney can find somebody to speak to about their legal issue.
Also Rule 7.1 is referenced in the ABA rule 7.2 – 7.1 says you can pay for leads which, which States to comply with rule 7.1 a lawyer must not pay a lead generator that states, implies, or creates a reasonable impression that it’s recommending the lawyer making the referral without payment, or that it is attempting to analyze the person’s legal problems. Effectively what that means is that any of the generation company can sell leads to a lawyer as long as a few things happen…
First, the lead generation company cannot specifically recommend the lawyer. So, a landing page or a website for a lead generation company can say:
“Get a free consultation with a local auto accident attorney to discuss your claim”.
However, it cannot say:
“Get a free consultation with Jones and Smith… The best personal injury attorneys in the state of California!”
That would be against the American Bar Association’s rules, as it’s creating a reasonable impression that the lead generator is recommending the client. If it’s generic, and it simply says you may be entitled to compensation – if you’d like a free consultation with an auto accident attorney, please fill out our form and we will have somebody to contact you. Makes a big difference in that you’re not recommending any one specific firm.