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New York has become the latest state to target attorney match service Avvo Inc. for ethical violations.

A new bar association ethics opinion says a lawyer paying Avvo’s marketing fee to participate in its legal services program is making an improper payment for a recommendation, in violation of state ethics rules. The New York State Bar Association released the opinion by its committee on professional ethics on Wednesday.

While the state bar’s ethics opinions are advisory only, they are widely read and followed.

Lawyers who continue to participate in Avvo’s legal services program “do so at their own peril,” said state bar president Sharon Stern Gerstman, counsel at Buffalo law firm Magavern Magavern Grimm.

But in an interview, Avvo’s chief legal counsel, Josh King, encouraged New York lawyers to continue participating, adding that Avvo would back any lawyer facing disciplinary action for his or her participation. To date, King said he is not aware of any attorney in such a position.

“I’m disappointed that they [the state bar ethics committee] didn’t pay attention to the constitutional limitations” of the rules of professional conduct in attorney advertising, King said.

The ethics opinion examines Avvo Legal Services, which King said has existed for about a year and a half and is only a narrow portion of Avvo’s business. Although he declined to say how many New York attorneys participated, he said it can be measured in the “hundreds” and less than 2,000.

The New York ethics opinion follows recent actions in other states such as New Jersey, where a joint opinion by three state’s Supreme Court committees has blacklisted three web-based services that match litigants with attorneys, including Avvo, because of concerns over illicit fee-sharing and referral fees. Other states with ethics concerns over lawyer website services include Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

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Christine Simmons

Christine Simmons writes about the New York legal community and the business of law. Email her at [email protected] and find her on Twitter @chlsimmons

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