Prepaid Legal Service Plans
Opinion rules, among other things, that an attorney may not accept legal employment by a Prepaid Legal Service Plan owned by the attorney's wife or another member of the attorney's immediate family, if the Plan will market its services by in-person solicitation.
Prepaid Legal Service Plan A markets its services by 1) in-person solicitation, 2) telemarketing, and 3) targeted direct mail advertisements. It plans to hire an attorney to draft the necessary legal documents used by the Plan.
May a lawyer properly provide legal services to Prepaid Legal Service Plan A if the Plan is owned by the lawyer's spouse?
Rule 2.4(d), which was recently adopted by the N.C. State Bar and approved by the North Carolina Supreme Court, provides that a lawyer may participate in a prepaid service plan which uses in-person or telephone solicitation to market its services, so long as the lawyer does not own or direct the plan.
Where the plan is owned and operated by the lawyer's spouse, there is a substantial likelihood that the lawyer may exert some control or direction of the plan. Moreover, even if the lawyer exerted no actual control over the Plan, the close connection between the lawyer and the spouse-owner could create an appearance of impropriety. Therefore, the lawyer may not participate in a plan owned and operated by the lawyer's spouse and which uses in-person solicitation and/or telemarketing.
This flat prohibition does not extend to the use of targeted direct mail, however. Rule 2.4 permits attorneys to engage in targeted direct mail solicitation except where such practice involves coercion, duress, harassment, compulsion or threats or where the prospective client has indicated a desire not to be solicited or where the communication includes false, misleading, or deceptive statements. Consequently, the attorney may participate in a plan owned and operated by the attorney's spouse and which employs targeted direct mail, so long as the plan meets the foregoing requirements.
Would the answer be different if the attorney providing the legal services for the Plan is a relative of the owner, but not the owner's spouse?
The answer will not change if the plan is owned by any members of the attorney's immediate family, such as a parent, sibling, or child.
Would the answer be different if the Plan was owned by a trust, the beneficiaries of which are the children of the attorney who will be providing legal services for the Plan's participants?
If the plan is owned and operated by a trust over which the attorney has no control or influence, the attorney may provide legal services to the plan, even if the nonlawyer employees of the plan promote the plan by in-person solicitation, telemarketing, and targeted direct mail. The attorney may not, however, personally engage in in-person solicitation or telemarketing.
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