Two Committees of the New Jersey Supreme Court have barred a non-lawyer owned company that "matches" clients to lawyers who will represent them regarding traffic violations. The Advertising Committee itself has disciplinary authority and the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics published opinions compel compliance by any attorney practicing in the state, subject only to discretionary review by the Court itself. - GWCJoint UPL/ACPE Opinion - UPL Opinion 58/ACPE Opinion 740 - Non-Legal Companies that Offer Legal Services to Customers Engage in the Unauthorized Practice of Law; Lawyers Who Provide Legal Services to the Company’s Customers Violate the Rules of Professional Conduct
The Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL Committee) considered a grievance about a company that offers legal services to customers to resolve their traffic ticket cases. Customers pay the company a flat fee and the company “matches” the user with a lawyer who will represent the customer in municipal court. The customer contracts for legal services with the company.
Companies that are not law firms cannot provide legal services to customers of the companies, either through staff lawyers or by furnishing outside lawyers. UPL Opinion 25 (January 1992); Stack v. P.G. Garage, Inc., 7 N.J. 118 (1951); N.J. State Bar Ass'n v. Northern N.J. Mortgage Associates, 22 N.J. 184 (1956), modified 34 N.J. 301 (1961).
The UPL Committee finds that the company is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
The Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics finds that lawyers who provide legal services to customers of such companies are assisting the company in the unauthorized practice of law, in violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 5.5(a)(2). If the lawyer receives the fee from the company, the lawyer is impermissibly fee-sharing in violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4(a). Further, a lawyer who is recommended or paid by the company to furnish legal services to the company’s customers violates Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3(e).