Coupons for Lawyers


Practicing law does not guarantee a stable career with plenty of income. Lack of capital, soaring unemployment statistics, and the reckless number of law students being enrolled in law school creates a perfect storm for lots of unemployed attorneys. Never mind the student loans, miscellaneous bar membership dues, liability insurance, etc. Say your oath and then, congrats, you are on the paycheck-to-paycheck revolving door.

I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories of licensed attorneys working as strippers and in the service industry. Allegedly, those are the lucky ones! The majority of the people I graduated with have recently started seeing positive cash flow.

My diatribe/rant leads me into contemplating alternative advertising for attorneys—namely, daily deal sites that offer legal services. Would you ever consider offering steeply discounted legal services on a deal site geared toward saving lawyers money while generating local business?

Daily deal sites work by offering one deal a day for its users. These deals offer steep discounts on a variety of goods and services. The users then purchase and print the deal vouchers and redeem them before the expiration date. Here, transactional work would be the most logical.

While several have flirted with the idea, one St. Louis attorney actually ran a Groupon for powers of attorney and simple wills. He sold about 50 deals—a good portion of the clientele even upgraded from their initial Groupon.

South Carolina issued a formal ethics opinion allowing for lawyers to take advantage of this marketing campaign. Likewise, North Carolina issued a draft opinion addressing the same issue but found that a lawyer’s “fee-sharing” arrangement with Groupon, the most popular daily deal website in the country, is unethical.

With more lawyers willing to give daily legal deals a go, I expect a good chunk of other jurisdictions may not be far away in addressing the issue, which generally involves questions over permissible or impermissible fee-sharing. The basic consensus of both the North Carolina and South Carolina opinions is that, if a transaction fee is charged up front, it should be treated as an ordinary advertising charge. The South Carolina opinion noted that, just because the fee was not paid out of the lawyer’s operating account, the transaction was not unethical.

The opinion also laid out some legal land mines to look out for. Specifically, lawyers must take care in their communications with the prospective clients. The same advertising rules for clients must be followed: no false or misleading communications, etc. Moreover, the attorney must be aware of how to handle the issue of “unused vouchers.” These vouchers will be placed in the client trust account as unearned fees, but what if they are never redeemed? Another trap for the unwary is to make sure the attorney clearly sets the client’s expectation and scope of representation.

Daily deal sites for legal services are likely to sprout up as clients demand cheaper legal services and jurisdictions are beginning to accept or allow daily deal sites within specific ethical parameters. What are your thoughts?

(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eschipul/408976318)

Read more from Gianna Scatchell.

4 Comments

  1. Alma Federer

    October 20, 2011 at 6:12 am

    My cousin is a great coupon clipper. She was on TV too!

  2. Jeff

    October 20, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I like it! Hire us for DUI defense and get an uncontested divorce at 50% of the already low fee of $399!

  3. ViaMedia

    October 20, 2011 at 9:42 am

    This practice may fly for practice areas like wills & trust, business law, and tax law because they are mostly proactive and seek to protect your client from future harm.

    However, this concept is deplorable for practices in criminal defense, personal injury, worker’s comp, etc. If someone suffers a loss, they should seek out an attorney regardless of cost (in tandem, the attorney’s cost should not be prohibitive to finding just compenstation or justice).

    Generally, I hate to promote any practice that supports a general feeling that you should wait for a deal or “the right price” to claim your legal rights.

  4. Guano Dubango

    October 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    I learned some news that will make me think twice….

    Although more and more people are living longer with colorectal cancer, new research has found that black people with the disease aren’t living as long as whites.

    In an analysis of more than 14,000 patients with stage 2 and 3 colorectal cancer who had surgery to remove tumors, followed by treatment to prevent recurrence, the 1,218 African-American patients had a lower five-year survival rate than their white counterparts, according to researchers, led by Greg Yothers of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project Biostatistical Center in Pittsburgh.

    Five years after diagnosis, 72.8 percent of white patients survived cancer, but only 68.2 percent of blacks survived.

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