United States: N.Y. State Bar Ethics Committee Takes On Avvo Legal Services, Says Model Violates Ethics Rules

Recently the New York State Bar Ethics Committee issued a pair of opinions about the limitations on a lawyer's ability to take advantage of certain on-line legal marketing services. NYSBA 1132 concluded that New York practitioners may not use Avvo Legal Services in its current form. NYSBA 1131 — issued the same day — outlined more generally what an online lead generation service must do to comply with the New York Rules of Professional Conduct (the "New York Rules"). Taken together, these opinions are certain to make waves as the legal profession struggles to adapt new technologies, unbundle legal services, and offer clients cost-effective solutions. Here's what lawyers and law firm general counsel need to know.

NYSBA 1132 (2017) - Avvo Legal Services

In Opinion 1132, the Committee addressed whether a lawyer could participate in Avvo Legal Services, a service introduced in 2016 by the lawyer rating website Avvo. Specifically, the Committee addressed whether Avvo Legal Services' payment structure violated New York Rule 7.2, which prohibits (in most instances) a lawyer from paying another to recommend the lawyer's services. The Opinion described Avvo Legal Services as follows: a prospective client (the "client") in need of legal services can visit a section of Avvo's website and answer a series of questions about the prospective client's specific legal matter. The client can choose a specific "package" which includes a combination of services including "advice sessions, document reviews, and start-to-finish support." The client can then choose to be connected to a lawyer either at random or by selecting a lawyer among a list presented on the website. On the back end, Avvo pays the participating attorney all of the legal fees generated when the client purchases the "package" but then separately charges the attorney a "marketing fee" for each completed service. The marketing fee depends on the price of the legal service the lawyer provided. Avvo also displays a "rating" for each lawyer based on an internal formula which generates a numerical value between 1 and 10.

Prohibited Referral Fee

The Committee concluded that Avvo Legal Services' marketing fee was a prohibited referral fee under the New York Rules. The reason: Avvo's rating system — combined with marketing promising the lawyer ratings as a tool to help clients find the "right" lawyer — created "the reasonable impression that Avvo is 'recommending' those lawyers."

With Opinion 1132, New York became one of several jurisdictions to challenge Avvo Legal Services, while acknowledging the vigorous debate that the service has spawned both inside and outside the legal profession. For instance, the Opinion noted that "[t]he number of lawyers and clients who are using Avvo Legal Services suggest that the company fills a need that more traditional methods of marketing and providing legal services are not meeting." The Committee concluded that "changes to Avvo's mode of operation — or future changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct — could lead us to alter our conclusions." Notably, however, the Opinion declined to address whether Avvo Legal Services' model constituted impermissible fee sharing with nonlawyers — an issue central to the debate in other jurisdictions.

NYSBA 1131 (2017) - Online Lead Generator

In Opinion 1131, the Committee addressed whether a lawyer could pay for an online lead generator, which would provide the lawyer with the contact information for potential clients in need of legal services. The Opinion concluded that such a payment was permissible so long as (i) the website selected the lawyer by "transparent and mechanical methods" and did not otherwise analyze the client's legal issue or the qualifications of the lawyer; (ii) the website did not explicitly or implicitly recommend the lawyer; and (iii) the website's communications about the lawyer's services were not prohibited by the attorney advertising rules. It is important to note that Opinion 1131 was turned on the fact that the lawyer would pay the lead generator either a fixed monthly fee or a fee for the name of each potential client. The lead generator's fee did not vary depending on whether the potential client actually retained the lawyer, or the amount of the lawyer's fee. Thus, unlike Opinion 1132 (which did not address the issue), Opinion 1131 suggested that the lawyer would be engaged in improper fee sharing if the lead generator's fee were tied to the amount the lawyer charged in legal fees.

The Takeaway

Over the past several years the "legal tech" world has exploded with numerous websites and other online tools geared towards delivering legal services in a non-traditional fashion. The goal of many of these services is to try and close the "justice gap" and provide affordable legal services to individuals who cannot otherwise pay for representation. However, as we previously wrote in an article for the New York Legal Ethics Reporter, these attempts have been met with significant resistance by bar regulators and ethics committees largely owing to the current state of the law and ethics rules. These regulatory bodies are facing increasing pressure to adapt to the times and allow some mechanism by which legal tech providers can coexist with the traditional law firm model. Only time will tell how this will play out. But as both sides press forward we will be sure to keep you updated with any new developments.


This alert provides general coverage of its subject area. We provide it with the understanding that Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz is not engaged herein in rendering legal advice, and shall not be liable for any damages resulting from any error, inaccuracy, or omission. Our attorneys practice law only in jurisdictions in which they are properly authorized to do so. We do not seek to represent clients in other jurisdictions.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Nicole I. Hyland
Ronald C. Minkoff
Tyler Maulsby
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.