TotalAttorneys, a marketing association of attorneys that operates legal referral web sites, such as TotalDivorce and TotalBankruptcy , is being sued in multiple jurisdictions by Attorney Zenas Zelotes, a consumer bankruptcy attorney, based in Hartford, Connecticut and Nevada, for violation of bar referral rules that exist in every state.
(Norwich Bulletin) Zelotes said he has filed more than 550 complaints in 47 states, claiming improper referrals are being made through Internet sites run by Total Attorneys Inc. of Chicago. Referrals obtained through sites such as totaldivorce.com and totaldui.com breach rules against for-profit lawyer referral services, Zelotes claims.
Findings of probable cause by Connecticut’s chief disciplinary counsel, Mark DuBois, has delighted Zelotes, who said the development would lead to an eventual sweeping precedent.
“As goes Connecticut so goes the nation,” said Zelotes, whose main office is in Hartford. “This is an important issue of national concern.”
DuBois, who found probable cause against five of 12 Connecticut attorneys named by Zelotes, isn’t going that far, but says the case raises “fascinating issues” about the use of technology in marketing legal services.
“I feel like the traffic cop who has to defend the 35-mile-an-hour speed limit to a guy who has invented a car that goes 200 miles per hour,” DuBois said.
That inventor is Kevin Chern, a Chicago lawyer who, like Zelotes, specializes in bankruptcy law. Chern, president of Total Attorneys Inc., has answered Zelotes’ 37-page complaint with a 44-page defense.
“Unfortunately, this is something you have to deal with in business,” Chern said by telephone. “We’re trying to do good things for consumers and improve access to the legal system.”
Chern says this is a cooperative advertising arrangement permitted under the rules, and attorneys are paying him for the cost of licensing the website and marketing costs.
This is a "natural extension of marketing models that are ubiquitous across the Internet," Chern said.
(Business Wire) The first to rule on the complaint, Hawaii’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel completed a full inquiry and determined that there is no basis upon which to take any action in the case. Hawaii also stated in its letter that the complaint raised serious First Amendment free commercial speech and other legal issues.
“The ruling in Hawaii affirms our belief that the advertising model used by Total Attorneys is within the bounds of ethical and professional conduct,” said Chern. “In Connecticut, as in most states, the Rules of Professional Conduct do not expressly address modern technology. That said, the Hawaii finding demonstrates that reasonable attorney regulators can certainly apply antiquated Rules to contemporary technology in a way that fulfills their mission to protect consumers and that retains the spirit of those Rules.”
Scott Drake interviews Zenas Zelotes
Kevin Chern Talks to LBN host Scott Drake