LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney John Michael Phillips | May 17, 2012

Lawyer and 1-800 Referral Service Advertising

You cannot get away from it. In Jacksonville, you will not be able to watch the news or any other programs without the likelihood of seeing advertising by lawyers, express concern for the viewer’s ailments or legal issues. Or you will hear a spokesperson talk about referral services, such as 1-800-Ask-Gary or 411-Pain. Simply put, the advertisements work and are not going away. Big firms are growing exponentially and can take a multi-million dollar advertising budget and multiply it by being able to funnel in cases. Smaller firms often offer more personal service, but don’t have the “bulk" to compete with the big firm’s advertising. There are dozens of fantastic lawyers you probably do not know about that will simply have more time for your case in many instances. Many ask, what is 1-800-Ask-Gary and its role in the process? It is, essentially, an enterprise consisting of a large chain of medical clinics that started in Florida because Florida insurance typically provides “no-fault" (PIP) medical benefits of $10,000 in nearly every accident. According to Gary, himself, when he got into the business (and now), insurance companies were slow to pay physicians for victims' treatment, so nine out of 10 primary physicians declined to treat auto accident (PIP) cases. The enterprise has since expanded into Kentucky and Minnesota, because of similar no-fault laws. In Florida and Minnesota, the clinic chain is known as Physicians Group, but in Kentucky is known as 1st Physician Rehabilitation. They will even pick you up. They will also refer you to one of about 40 law firms that they have a relationship with, some that are some of the biggest advertisers in the business. A Sarasota chiropractor named Gary Kompothecras controls both companies. The operation has been so successful that it paid for naming rights (reportedly to the tune of over $300,000 per year) at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa for what is now known as the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheater and Gary’s home has been featured as one of the largest in the county. Personal injury referrals is big business. The Tampa Tribune did a report 4 years ago and found Physicians Group spent just over $2 million on advertising in 2007 in the Tampa Bay area market ALONE. That figure did not include additional money that it spent in other Florida markets, including Jacksonville and Southwest Florida. By comparison, the Tribune said, one of the large advertising law firms spent about $5 million in that same period in the Tampa Bay area... IN ONE YEAR. ON ADVERTISING. Staffed call centers are standing by 24/7, waiting to get your business. In all too many instances, it is fast food for the legally challenged. WANT TO SEE WHO “ASK GARY" AND “411-PAIN" Refer to, click here. The parties that spend the most also fight the most. In 2010, those behind 1-800-ask-gary filed suit against someone who started a website entitled, askgarysucks.com. A ruling was ultimately issued in the parody site’s favor. The ruling stated, “Respondent’s domain name is not identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or servicemark in which the Complainant has rights. Therefore, Respondent is not ordered to transfer the mark to Complainant." There are other disputes discussed in the media on a regular basis, including fights over referrals and payments, disgruntled former patients (pdf here), vendors and the like. “Ask Gary" even sued a lawyer that had a critical blog. Referral arrangements between doctors and lawyers have existed for generations. It is VASTLY important to have a network between doctors and lawyers that both sides trust, whether as a Plaintiff’s attorney or as a Defense attorney. However, doctors and lawyers should not be transferring money or clients in bulk. Where does Florida law draw the line? 817.505 Patient brokering prohibited; exceptions; penalties. (1) It is unlawful for any person, including any health care provider or health care facility, to: (a) Offer or pay any commission, bonus, rebate, kickback, or bribe, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind, or engage in any split-fee arrangement, in any form whatsoever, to induce the referral of patients or patronage to or from a health care provider or health care facility; (b) Solicit or receive any commission, bonus, rebate, kickback, or bribe, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind, or engage in any split-fee arrangement, in any form whatsoever, in return for referring patients or patronage to or from a health care provider or health care facility; (c) Solicit or receive any commission, bonus, rebate, kickback, or bribe, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind, or engage in any split-fee arrangement, in any form whatsoever, in return for the acceptance or acknowledgement of treatment from a health care provider or health care facility; or Aid, abet, advise, or otherwise participate in the conduct prohibited under paragraph (a), paragraph (b), or paragraph (c). AND ?Florida Bar Rules State, “A lawyer may not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer's services. This prohibition does not prevent a lawyer from paying the reasonable cost of advertising or the payment of usual charges to a lawyer referral service or other legal service organization." Further, Florida lawyers are only able to take potential clients from a referral service if the company’s advertisements comply with The Florida Bar’s standards. Lawyers are not allowed to approach an accident victim at the scene or solicit their services according to The Florida Bar. The best advice to finding a lawyer is to ignore expensive media campaigns and ask friends and family for a lawyer who has provided them with excellent service. Or consult services such as Martindale.com or avvo.com, which rates attorneys. You should do your own research into that lawyer’s background. Always feel free to email me. We will EARN your business or POINT you in the right direction, no questions asked. We strive to have a team of amazing, ethical, qualified medical professionals to refer cases to and never receive ANY benefit or PAY anything for these relationships. We simply hope they believe we are an excellent option for their patients. Call us. --- --- --- --- --- --- John M. Phillips [email protected] Licensed in Florida, Georgia and Alabama --- --- --- --- --- ---

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