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Lawyers Can Offer Groupon Deals, with Caveats: NY Ethics Opinion

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on February 02, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Can you imagine your law firm on Groupon?

The daily deals site is a popular place for savvy shoppers. You can find offers for local restaurants, cafes, and spas. Soon you may even find legal services advertised on the site.

The South Carolina Bar issued an ethics opinion on the matter last year. It decided Groupon-like advertisements do not violate ethics rules. The New York Bar Association Committee on Ethics has issued a similar decision. Advertising on "deal of the day" websites is permissible -- with some caveats.

Below is a summary of parts of the opinion:

  • If the lawyer is unable to perform services they must offer a full refund. This issue can crop up because attorneys can't run conflict-checks before a person buys a deal. So there may be situations where a person holds a "Groupon" but the lawyer cannot ethically do work.
  • If the client decides to discharge the lawyer or declines to go forward, the lawyer also needs to provide a refund. The amount of the refund will vary. The lawyer may be entitled to keep some of the money if he or she provided services prior to termination.
  • Some buyers purchase daily deals and never actually use them. Others might wait until the deal expires. If these scenarios occur, the lawyer can treat the amount paid as an earned retainer.
  • The lawyer must comply with ethical rules regarding advertising. Namely, the ads cannot be "false, deceptive, or misleading." Ads also need to clearly state certain conditions so that an improper attorney-client relationship isn't formed.

Now it may be difficult for you to imagine offering your services on a "group coupon" site. In fact, it may be impossible for some practice areas. Case in point: it likely wouldn't be feasible to offer your M&A work at a discount rate.

But the New York Bar's opinion cited one service that could be advertised on Groupon-esque sites: preparing a simple will. Lawyers could offer a discounted price of $200 for a will they normally charge $400 for.

More states may make similar ethics decisions. The real question is: would you put your law firm's services up for sale on Groupon?

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