BOARD RULES ON ‘VIRTUAL’ FIRM’S DIRECT MAIL CAMPAIGN
By Jim Ash, Senior Editor, The Florida Bar News
Agreeing with a recommendation by the Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics, the Board of Governors has voted to allow a “virtual” law firm to continue billing itself as “multi-state.”
The board voted unanimously at a May 24 meeting in Palm Beach to reverse a Standing Committee on Advertising determination that Ice Legal’s direct mail campaign violated Bar rules. The Board Review Committee determined the mailout was permissible since it specifically included clarifying language that the firm maintains no brick-and-mortar offices in Florida or any other state the firm’s lawyers are licensed to practice in.
According to Advertising Appeals 19-01896 and 19-01897, the firm’s husband-and-wife owners are licensed to practice in Florida, the District of Columbia, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
According to Bar records, while Ice Legal uses a Lake Worth mailing address, its mailers indicate that “Ice Legal attorneys and staff work in an office-free environment to keep its services affordable.”
The Standing Committee on Advertising determined that the firm’s use of “multi-state” violates Rule 4-7.13 (a) “unless the filer’s law firm has bona fide brick-and-mortar offices in Florida and the other advertised states, and the lawyers who own or are traditional employees of the firm are physically located and providing legal services,” in Florida and the other subject states and jurisdictions.
“To be sure, we do not have brick-and-mortar offices outside of Florida,” Thomas Ice wrote in a response to the Bar. “But neither do we have a brick-and-mortar office anywhere in Florida. . . . Accordingly, having an office cannot be the criteria for defining the reach of a firm.”
In another response, Ice described himself as a “big firm refugee” and Florida lawyer for nearly 33 years who founded Ice Legal primarily to serve low-bono and low-income clients.
“After operating for many years with multiple locations in Florida, Ice Legal closed its offices and went completely virtual with the goal of reducing overhead and passing those savings on to its clients,” he wrote.
Ice Legal also claimed that it was forced to expand to other states to maintain a “scalable volume,” and that its two attorneys became licensed in the states and registered as a foreign entity to “avoid UPL problems inherent with lawyer networks holding themselves out as ‘firms.’”
The Board Review Committee voted 9-1 to recommend the Board of Governors reverse the Standing Committee on Advertising decision because of the clarifying language. The board voted unanimously, without comment, to approve the BRC recommendation.
Link to original article: https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/board-rules-on-virtual-firms-direct-mail-campaign/