FLORIDA BAR INITIATES INVESTIGATION INTO JANE AKRE AND HER OPERATION OF MESH MEDICAL DEVICE NEWS DESK AS A “LAWYER REFERRAL SERVICE”. INVESTIGATION INCLUDES INVOLVEMENT WITH SEVERAL LAW FIRMS: BLASINGAME, BURCH, GARRARD & ASHLEY, MUELLER LAW, HOLLIS LAW FIRM AND BURGE AND BURGE PC and RN CHRISTINE KENT, WHOLE WOMAN INC
Jane Akre operates her website, Mesh Medical Device News Desk, as a one stop shop, referring women and men to doctors, attorneys, leading them to protest against mesh maker Johnson & Johnson/Ethicon Inc. at their annual shareholders meeting, doing interviews with Ralph Nader, offering non-scientific studies of autoimmune disease by Nonie Wideman, her own non-scientific analysis of the chemical and physical properties of polypropylene made into mesh derived from her reading of lawsuits and a free report from Whole Woman, a resource for pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence without surgery, all the while taking a position as a patient advocate for these same people.
I have watched this train wreck for years now with growing alarm because of the amazing amount of misinformation offered by “an unbiased journalist”. No one person, no single practitioner, is qualified to offer all these services on one site. Having the knowledge and the time to responsibly vet each and every one of these services, while researching and writing the content on the site, commenting on the comments, managing social media and travel to report on trials is not a one person job.
Ms. Akre's response to the Florida Bar is due July 28, 2017. In the meantime, her efforts to clean up the site are evident. Much of the content has been removed and the front and center drop down box that was a questionnaire for pelvic mesh attorneys is no longer there. The content of the site, however, has so much pervasive "unlicensed practice of law" comments by Ms. Akre, she may be forced to shut it down and start all over.
It’s no surprise there is an investigation by the Florida Bar and the management of this for-profit “lawyer referral service”. Why? Attorneys are the ones responsible for the following under the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
RULE 4-7.10 LAWYER REFERRAL SERVICES
(b) Responsibility of Lawyer. A lawyer who accepts referrals from a lawyer referral service is responsible for ensuring that any advertisements or written communications used by the service comply with the requirements of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, and that the service is in compliance with the provisions of this subchapter. It shall be a violation of these Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and a failure of such responsibility if the lawyer knows or should have known that the service is not in compliance with applicable rules or if the lawyer failed to seek information necessary to determine compliance.
With regard to for-profit lawyer referral services, the ABA further reports that at least 26 states limit lawyer participation to only not-for-profit lawyer referral service programs, either directly in rule language or by interpretation. Involvement by Florida lawyers in for-profit lawyer referral services, however, has been authorized by the state Supreme Court since January 1987.
The rules in Florida allow lawyer involvement in a
for-profit lawyer referral service,
1) provided that the service uses an actual or a registered fictitious name in its communications;
2) the service registers with The Florida Bar and submits quarterly reports that identify its authorized personnel and participating attorneys;
3) the service affirmatively states that it is a lawyer referral service in any of its advertisements;
4) the service complies with the Supreme Court’s rules on lawyer communications and advertising (including the filing of proposed ads for Florida Bar review);
5) there is no fee sharing between lawyers and non-lawyers;
6) referrals are only made to lawyers who are authorized to practice in Florida;
7) the service or participating lawyers maintain malpractice insurance in the amount of $100,000 per claim, per occurrence; and
8) the service responds in writing to official Florida Bar inquiries within 15 days.
R. Regulating Fla. Bar 4-7.10
REPORT OF THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON
LAWYER REFERRAL SERVICES
Final Report July 2012
I. THE COMMITTEE
A. Origin and Mission
In the midst of explosive increases in advertising by for-profit lawyer referral services – many directed at victims of motor vehicle accidents covered by Florida’s no-fault insurance law which provides attractive personal injury protection benefits – The Florida Bar’s Special Committee on Lawyer Referral Services was created in January 2011 by then-president Mayanne Downs.
The genesis for creation of this special committee was noted in an earlier observation from The Florida Bar’s Program Evaluation Committee, that the Bar had received “numerous complaints regarding advertising by lawyer referral services in Florida in the past few fiscal years.” In recommending the creation of this study group, the Program Evaluation Committee highlighted concerns over “the proliferation of lawyer referral services, the lack of regulation of lawyer referral services, and that lawyer referral services have not followed Florida Bar rules that are applicable to Florida Bar members. Members of the Legislature also have indicated an interest in this issue.”
The January 13, 2011 letters from President Downs appointing the chair and members of this 15- person special committee especially noted Florida’s dramatic growth of for-profit lawyer referral services in recent times, along with a corresponding increase in public concerns over the potential harm from these entities and the misleading nature of their activities.
Downs observed: “The creative design of these services and the significant involvement of non- lawyers have posed particular regulatory challenges for The Florida Bar. Yet, people still look to this organization to assist in resolving some of the complex issues associated with responsible oversight of lawyer referral mechanisms in today’s world.”
The Bar president asked that the special committee “review the current practices of lawyer referral services, as well as all rules and regulations that may be applicable to such services.” The appointment letters additionally stated that the assignment would include “consideration of possible rules changes, and whether and to what extent The Florida Bar can or should directly regulate lawyer referral services.”
The special committee initially sought to determine what is a “lawyer referral service.” Rule 4- 7.10(c) of the Florida Supreme Court’s Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, provides a rather specific definition, in stating:
A "lawyer referral service" is:
(1) any person, group of persons, association, organization, or entity that receives any consideration, monetary or otherwise, given in exchange for referring or causing the direct or indirect referral of a potential client to a lawyer selected from a specific group or panel of lawyers; or
(2) any group or pooled advertising program operated by any person, group of persons, association, organization, or entity wherein the legal services advertisements utilize a common telephone number and potential clients are then referred only to lawyers or law firms participating in the group or pooled advertising program.
The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, created by the American Bar Association (ABA), are a set of rules that prescribe baseline standards of legal ethics and professional responsibility for lawyers in the United States.