Legal advertising for New York lawyers is primarily governed by New York Bar Rules of Professional Conduct 7.1 and 7.2. Lawyers appearing on the site are responsible for ensuring that their profiles are accurate and comply with the applicable bar rules. Rule 7.1(f) requires that a website display the phrase “Attorney Advertising,” which the site will do for any web page on which a New York attorney is featured.
Rule 7.2 makes a distinction between online directories and lawyer referral services. A lawyer referral service is subject to regulation, while a legal directory is subject only to the general rules regarding lawyer advertising. Probate Stars is an online directory, as opposed to a referral service.
As explained in New York Ethics Opinion 1113:
Distinction Between an Online Directory and a Legal Referral Service
15. The answer to the questions posed here depends on whether the Service is a “directory” or a “referral service.” This matters because Rule 7.2(b)(3) generally prohibits a lawyer from being recommended by or cooperating with a “lawyer referral service” unless the service is “operated, sponsored or approved by a bar association or authorized by law or court rule.”
16. In N.Y. State 799 (2006), this Committee discussed the differences between a legal “directory” and a legal “referral service” and attempted to determine at what point an online directory becomes a referral service. For example, we said that an online version of the “yellow pages” that was available to ultimate clients could provide tools by which a potential client can filter a list of attorneys by geography and/or practice area (e.g., to create a list of attorneys in a particular geographical area who do a particular kind of legal work) without becoming a referral service. We noted, however, that the line would be crossed if the website recommended a particular lawyer or lawyers for the prospective client’s problem. Consistent with this distinction, we assume that the Service gives a hiring lawyer access to the names of all of the per diem lawyers who meet the requirements of the hiring lawyer (e.g., time, jurisdiction, area of expertise, and billing rate) without winnowing down the list in any manner other than using criteria supplied by the hiring lawyer. If our assumption is correct, then the Service would not be making recommendations, and would not be a referral service. Compare N.Y. State 976 (2013) (if payments to the non-lawyer would include not only a monthly fee but other fees that could constitute payments for recommendations, those payments would violate Rule 7.2(a)); N.Y. State 902 (2012) (lawyer may not base marketing fee on number of actual or potential clients the marketer introduces to the lawyer).
Probate Stars collects a flat monthly fee from lawyers displayed on the site. Probate Stars receives no additional compensation for the volume of business generated through the site for a lawyer. Probate Stars does not recommend a particular lawyer to a prospective client. Because Probate Stars does none of the activities that would constitute a referral service, neither the site nor the participating lawyers are subject to regulation beyond the rules governing lawyer advertising.