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$500 Visa cards for clients? Maybe not, State Bar says

dmc-admin//April 19, 2011//

$500 Visa cards for clients? Maybe not, State Bar says

dmc-admin//April 19, 2011//

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A drawing for a grand prize to lure in customers is something more often associated with car dealers than law firms.

But a firm in North Carolina has plans to do exactly that.

Those plans are the subject of an inquiry before the N.C. State Bar’s Ethics Committee. The filing before the committee says the firm, described only as “a large personal injury firm,” came up with the idea of holding a drawing to give away 10 Visa gift cards valued at $500 each.

It planned to send postcards to former and current clients that said the drawing was being offered “in appreciation of our clients’ trust and confidence we have received over the years.” To be eligible for the drawing, current and former clients only need to go to the “newly redesigned” website and fill out the “free evaluation form,” the postcard was to say.

Not so fast.

The State Bar’s staff has come back with a proposed opinion that says that such a drawing would violate the prohibition against giving anything of value to a client or anyone else for recommending a lawyer’s services.

The committee referred to an opinion of the Louisiana State Bar Association, holding that any gift made by a lawyer to a client should be made only as a “modest expression” of thanks or appreciation.

The firm in the inquiry before the N.C. State Bar says that it is offering clients the opportunity to participate in the drawing to show their appreciation of the clients’ trust and confidence. If the drawing were not associated with past or future referrals, it would be permissible so long as the value of the prize offered is nominal, the staff opinion says. But in this case, “the value of the offered prizes gives the drawing the appearance of a reward for past business or an incentive for future business,” according to Bar’s staff.

The Bar’s Ethics Committee is slated to consider the inquiry at a meeting in Raleigh later this week.

– By SYLVIA ADCOCK, Staff Writer

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