Dec. 19, 2012 – Ethical dilemmas affect every lawyer’s practice. This series of questions and answers appears each month in InsideTrack. The answers, offered by State Bar’s ethics counsel Timothy Pierce, are intended to provide guidance only and are not legal authority. Each situation will depend on the facts and circumstances involved.
I regularly represent a contractor and he recently asked me to give a presentation at a seminar on the construction business. My client introduced me at the seminar as an excellent attorney who he “highly recommends.” Several of the people I spoke to at the seminar became new clients, and out of gratitude, I gave my client a substantial discount on his next bill. I talked to another lawyer about the new business I got and was surprised when he said it wasn’t a good idea because it was in-person solicitation. Do I have something to worry about?
The problem is not in-person solicitation, because the seminar attendees initiated the contact with the lawyer. However, a lawyer may not give anything of value, other than money paid for ads, to someone for recommending the lawyer’s services. Thus, it is not permissible to give a discount on a bill to a client who sends other clients to the lawyer.
References: SCR 20:7.2 and 7.3, State Bar of Wisconsin Formal Ethics Opinion E-94-4.