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A for-profit attorney referral service whose Yellow Pages advertisement has incited bar leaders’ wrath is the apparent subject of an advisory opinion of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics. Though Informal Opinion 01-03, released Jan. 22, doesn’t specifically name SelectCounsel, it does find an advertisement with wording nearly identical to that of the attorney referral company’s listing in the 2000-2001 Yellow Pages to be in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The ad sparked lawyers’ ire when it was given the same preferential placement in the Yellow Pages as those for county Bar associations’ nonprofit attorney referral services. Such ads, which have long helped members of the public find adequate legal representation free of charge, currently appear before individual attorney listings in the Yellow Pages because the second “r” in “attorney referral” alphabetically comes before the “s” in “attorneys.” Both the nonprofit bar association ad and the SelectCounsel ad appear under the referral heading. However, Southern New England Telecommunications Co., has advised Bar leaders that, in future Yellow Pages, those ads will appear after the listings for attorneys whether they are placed by for-profit or nonprofit groups. In its advisory opinion, the CBA’s ethics panel found that SelectCounsel’s “How do you find a great lawyer?” ad fails to comply with rules 7.1 and 7.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. (In the opinion, the company is only referred to as “ABC lawyer referral service.”) The panel’s criticism targets claims touting the company as a “Free Public Service” that “Best of all, provides this service at absolutely no charge to you.” “These two statements,” according to the opinion, “omit a vitally important fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading. This fact is that ABC is a for-profit business which exists to collect referral fees” from the lawyers to whom it sends personal-injury cases. The ethics committee also faults that ad for not naming the lawyer responsible for its placement. The panel’s review came at the request of CBA President Donat C. Marchand, of Greenwich’s Ivey, Barnum & O’Mara. “We just wanted to make sure that there’s truth in advertising and that the lawyers [who run SelectCounsel] comply with their ethical obligations,” Marchand said. Ridgefield attorney Richard J. Fricke, one of the three lawyers who own the for-profit company, said the opinion is moot because SelectCounsel no longer plans to advertise in the Yellow Pages. The company’s Web site, online at http://www.selectcounsel.com, also fully adheres to lawyer-ethics rules, Fricke said. The site’s “frequently asked questions” section notes that, “At the successful conclusion of a case, SelectCounsel LLC is paid a referral fee, by the referred law firm, which in no way increases the cost that the client pays to the law firm that represented him/her.” Fricke said his company never sought preferential placement in the Yellow Pages and is being unfairly vilified. The business, he noted, is weighing the possibility of bringing a suit under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act against SNET and the group of lawyers that urged the telephone company to move SelectCounsel’s ad. But he contended, “For us to bring an action would be getting into the mud with them.”

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