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The Truth About Lawyer Referral Services in California

As Californians, we have all seen the advertisements on television and the internet from lawyer referral services. I think the average California consumer does not realize, however, that they are seeing a referral service in all of these ads or even what a referral service is. I wanted to do a post explaining how many of these services work and why it is not a great way, in my opinion as a Los Angeles personal injury attorney, to choose and retain a lawyer.

What is a lawyer referral service?

In California, lawyer referral services come in two basic forms.  The first type of service are the ones which are run by various non-profit bar associations like the Los Angeles County Bar Association.  Attorneys pay fees to be included in the potential candidates for people looking for legal representation in various practice areas.  The various attorney bar organizations have a screening process for candidates to be members.

The second category, which I loosely refer to as attorney referral services are those for profit organizations that simply allow attorneys to pay a fee to be a part of a rotation of lawyers to whom cases are referred from various television, new print, and internet ads.  These have existed for decades and have become even more prolific in the last several years.  Various examples include R.W. Lynch Company (owners of the “Injury Helpline” and various other spin offs such as “Injury Helpline Attorney”, “Car Accident Injury Helpline” and “Trucking Injury Helpline”); Walker Advertising Group (owners of 1-800-TheLaw2 and Los Defensores); Jacoby and Meyers and various other businesses.  These services are for profit businesses that charge lawyers monthly fees to be a part of their network.  Fees for these services can be upwards of 10,000 or more per month. The companies take a profit from these dues and use money to simply blanket the television and internet airwaves with advertising.

Why are lawyer referral services not the best way to hire a personal injury attorney?

Although the pre-screened bar association approved networks have some basis of “quality control” for selecting lawyers, they still are in the “business” of taking membership fees in and farming out cases in a fairly random order.  The for profit referral companies simply provide client leads the highest bidder.  Payment by attorneys to these businesses in higher amounts results in more direct referrals to the attorney.  In my opinion, the ads for these types of “pay for play” services are completely misleading.  These types of organizations are not run by attorneys but, rather by business persons interested in making a profit.  Lawyers who choose to participate in these referral schemes do not possess any particular skill or training above and beyond other lawyers nor are they distinguished in their abilities in any way other than their ability to pay a fee to get cases.  When a California consumer calls in response to one of these ads, they most often are not even speaking with a lawyer but, rather a marketing representative.  The caller is then referred to whomever is at the “top of the rotation” at that particular moment.

What would be a much better way to retain a lawyer for an accident claim?

If you had a serious injury or illness, would you select your physician based upon a TV or internet ad that randomly refers a doctor simply based upon that doctor having paid the advertising service a fee?  I think most Californians would answer, NO!  Why then would you retain an attorney this way.  The better process is to research the history, track record and results of a lawyer and make an informed, intelligent decision based upon real information.  One great way to do this is to do what you are doing right now: Look the lawyer up online and read their actual website and not a “marketing piece”.  Read about the types of cases they have handled, their results, testimonials from prior clients, etc.  There are also many other objective measures of a lawyer’s reputation in the community.  Two of these include: the AVVO Lawyer Rating system, which is based upon numerous factors such as an attorney’s level of experience, history with the California State Bar Association, publications and endorsements from clients and other lawyers in the community; the Super Lawyers rating system from Thomson Reuters news service, which picks the top 5 percent of lawyers in the state in any particular field based upon a vetting background investigation and nominations from peer attorneys.  You can also look at endorsements on various online social media outlets such as LinkedIn where people can say what they really think about an attorney’s reputation.

For additional resources on Steven M. Sweat, APC and founding partner, Steven M. Sweat go to:

Super Lawyers Attorney Profile – Steven M. Sweat: Personal Injury Attorney, Southern California

AVVO Superb Rated Attorney: Steven M. Sweat


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