THE ADVOCATE 667
VOL. 76 PART 5 SEPTEMBER 2018
IS IT TIME TO PROVIDE MORE GUIDANCE
ON ADVERTISING FOR LEGAL SERVICES
AND REFERRING POTENTIAL CLIENTS TO
By Drummond Lambert and Michael Thomas
The practice of law has increasingly become less of a profession
and more of a business. In Toronto one can hardly relieve oneself
at a ballgame, sit on a park bench or drive home without
being assaulted by advertising for legal services and competing
claims of lawyer excellence. Last year the Toronto Star published exposés on
law firm advertisements and referral fees, as well as billing practices linked
to both of these subjects.
These exposés sparked a lively debate within the Ontario bar and
resulted in the Law Society of Upper Canada, now the Law Society of
Ontario (“LSO”), creating the Advertising and Fee Arrangements Issues
Working Group (the “Working Group”), which conducted an extensive
review of relevant practices in Ontario and the governing rules of conduct.
The working group recommended a dramatic overhaul of the LSO’s rules of
conduct. The recommendations were instituted on April 27, 2017, making
Ontario the first Canadian jurisdiction to set caps on referral fees and
impose thorough transparency measures on the practice. The LSO also
introduced various new restrictions on the advertising of legal services.
While the LSO considered the problems unique to Ontario, the LSO’s
approach is instructive for lawyers across Canada, including here in British
Columbia. There has been a recent increase in advertising for legal services
in British Columbia through traditional advertising media such as radio, television,
newspapers, buses and park benches; less traditional media such as
bathrooms and sports venues; and electronic media such as Google
AdWords and social media.
REFORMS OF REFERRAL FEE RULES IN ONTARIO
Referral fees are payments made by one lawyer receiving a file to another
lawyer referring the file. In British Columbia referral fees can be paid only to