Ask An Ethics Question: Gift Cards

Updated – 1/30/2015
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A few days ago, a question appeared on the Solosez Listserve, inquiring whether a promotional strategy – whereby individuals referred to a firm by an existing client would be entered into a drawing for a gift card upon coming in for a free consultation – passed ethical muster.

Happily, everyone who responded recognized that the strategy violates legal ethics prohibitions on giving something of value in exchange for a referral. Or in colloquial terms, lawyers can’t buy clients whether the currency comes in the form of dollars, gift cards or meals. Here are some of ethics decisions that I founded up on this point.

While I don’t take issue with ethics rules prohibiting fees-for-clients, I’m opposed to rules that are so restrictive that they prevent lawyers from sending referral sources a thank you gift. Many of these same cases address that point as well and here jurisdictions differ; some permit small gifts like baseball tickets or restaurant gift cards while others prevent even gifts de minimis value which is unfortunate.

So here’s a quid pro quo for you. I’m in need of content, many of you are in need of feedback on ethics on law practice management matters like marketing strategies, billing practices and legal technology.  Let me propose a trade: if you send me your ethics questions, I’ll research them and post a response. I’ll retain discretion over which questions I choose to answer, but just to emphasize, I’m limiting the scope to law practice management matters, rather than questions that may arise in practice such as “Am I conflicted from representing X” or “Do I need to tell the police where my client hid the body?” Submit questions to elefant@myshingle.com

Update – Splitting hairs bonus:  Although it’s unethical to reward a prospective clients with a chance to win a gift card in exchange for coming in for a free consult, can a law firm offer a chance to win a gift card in exchange for a visitor liking a law firm page – as this Indiana firm did here. I’m going to take a cautious position here and opine that seeking likes in exchange for a chance to win a gift card would run afoul of ethics rules. To the extent that some view page “likes” as an endorsement, at the very least, offering incentives to prospective visitors in exchange for an endorsement doesn’t pass muster. Moreover, when law firms gather false “likes” from strangers who’ve never heard of the firm, it conveys the impression that the practice enjoys wider support within the community than it actually does and therefore is deceptive. Finally, ethics aside, bear in mind that contests must comply with platform-specific requirements.