State Bar Association wants to protect consumers using lawyer referral services

Legislative Gazette file photo

The state Senate and Assembly passed legislation that would provide attorney-client privilege to consumers who are using lawyer referral services.

The bill (S.5845/A.9029) is sponsored by Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, D-Bronx and seeks to establish the same privileges afforded between clients and attorneys to those using lawyer referral services.

These services don’t provide legal advice, but instead, attempt to match a client with the most appropriate attorney in the area, based on the details of the case and the lawyer’s specialties, usually at no charge or for a minimal fee.

The bill, which passed both houses and is awaiting action by the governor, would allow a client to confidentially disclose the same information with sufficient details that they would to a lawyer. Proponents of the bill say a change to the current flaw is needed so that clients can find the right lawyer without worrying about damaging their case.

Sharon Stern Gerstman, president of the New York State Bar Association, was pleased to see the bill pass.

“People who rely upon lawyer referral services for assistance do so with the assumption that the detailed information they provide is both necessary to receiving a referral and confidential,” Gerstman said.

In order to be directed to the appropriate lawyer, consumers need to disclose much of the same information to the referral services that they would in an initial meeting with a lawyer. The information, whether given over the phone telephone or in an email, must include enough details about their legal issues to make sure they find an appropriate lawyer.

This information could damage a criminal or civil case if revealed to adverse parties, and so consumers frequently ask referral services if their information will remain confidential.

“This legislation would resolve any potential question about the confidentiality of communications between the state’s 20 lawyer referral services and those who rely on them for help,” Gerstman said.

This legislation would take effect immediately but is yet to be delivered to Gov. Cuomo to be signed or vetoed.