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Upwork's Charges, Legal Fees and the Unlicensed Practice of Law

Active Member
Gregory L Member Since: Apr 18, 2017
1 of 61

Hello All,

 

I am an attorney and brand new to Upwork.  I searched for the answer to my question throughout the forums to no avail. 

 

The divying up of the legal fees in the way UW outlines seems it would prohibit attorneys in most states from using UW at all.  While attorneys are generally allowed to buy "leads" from marketing companies for a fixed amount of money, insofar an attorney is paying a percentage directly based on their actual legal fees with a non-lawyer this would most likely be considered the unlicensed practice of law. 

 

Am I missing something here? Any clarification would be immensely helpful. 

Community Guru
Preston H Member Since: Nov 24, 2014
2 of 61

Upwork is not about "the unlicensed practice of law."

 

It sounds like you want to turn Upwork into something it is not.

 

Upwork is an immensely useful tool. But it is not ALL things to ALL people.

 

Upwork does not purport to be a good place to hire somebody to clean septic tanks.  Nor does it purport to offer specialized tools or functionality geared specifically for law practices. It is what it is and if you perceive that it has limitations, you are correct.

Active Member
Gregory L Member Since: Apr 18, 2017
3 of 61

Perhaps my tone came off the wrong way.  

 

I am a licensed attorney, and I would like to use UW.  It is clearly a useful tool for connecting people with legal needs to lawyers and other types of legal professional.  But the way that UW structures their fees seems like it might prevent an attorney from being able to do work that only an attorney can do (as opposed to other types of legal professionals) because it might be viewed by a state Bar association as fee sharing (which is considered a form of unauthorized practice of law because a unlicensed company is receiving legal fees).

 

If the "fee sharing" arrangement is only arrangement that UW offers (as opposed to a flat rate fee per lead or something else that isn't tied directly to the amount of services a lawyer provides) then you are probably correct; UW is not for people practicing law in the United States. Which is a shame because both attorneys and clients are missing out.

Community Guru
Reinier B Member Since: Nov 3, 2015
4 of 61

I'm intrigued.

 

I am not a lawyer, and I'm not in the US, so perhaps I just don't understand the problem. What fees are you referring to, and why can't lawyers work on Upwork? I know of at least one (US licenced) attorney who is a regular forum contributor, and very successful on Upwork.

 

This person provides services that only attorneys can provide, and as far as I know, she has not been disbarred for collecting fees from her clients. I hope she weighs in on this thread, if only to clarify the fees issue for non-US members of Upwork who are not attorneys.   

Active Member
Gregory L Member Since: Apr 18, 2017
5 of 61

Here is the American Bar Association Model Rule that many states have adopted or followed closely:

 

Rule 5.4: Professional Independence of a Lawyer
Law Firms And Associations
Rule 5.4 Professional Independence Of A Lawyer

 

(a) A lawyer or law firm shall not share legal fees with a nonlawyer, except that:

  1. an agreement by a lawyer with the lawyer's firm, partner, or associate may provide for the payment of money, over a reasonable period of time after the lawyer's death, to the lawyer's estate or to one or more specified persons;
  2. a lawyer who purchases the practice of a deceased, disabled, or disappeared lawyer may, pursuant to the provisions of Rule 1.17, pay to the estate or other representative of that lawyer the agreed-upon purchase price;
  3. a lawyer or law firm may include nonlawyer employees in a compensation or retirement plan, even though the plan is based in whole or in part on a profit-sharing arrangement; and
  4. a lawyer may share court-awarded legal fees with a nonprofit organization that employed, retained or recommended employment of the lawyer in the matter.

(b) A lawyer shall not form a partnership with a nonlawyer if any of the activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law.

 

...

 

If you're really interested read an ABA formal opinion related to fee divisions here.

Ace Contributor
Jennifer D Member Since: Feb 19, 2019
6 of 61

Why aren't you seeing this as a marketing fee versus "sharing funds"?   How is it different that if you were placing an ad in a newspaper, etc. I see their fee arragment more as a marketing lens than I am sharing my proceeds from them.  

 

If your interpretation so black and white, then there could never be head hunters/recruiters for attorneys.  They get paid a % for placement at the end of the day.   Those types of roles exist - how is this different?

 

Curious.  

Community Guru
Phyllis G Member Since: Sep 8, 2016
7 of 61

Jennifer D wrote:

Why aren't you seeing this as a marketing fee versus "sharing funds"?   How is it different that if you were placing an ad in a newspaper, etc. I see their fee arragment more as a marketing lens than I am sharing my proceeds from them.  

 

If your interpretation so black and white, then there could never be head hunters/recruiters for attorneys.  They get paid a % for placement at the end of the day.   Those types of roles exist - how is this different?

 

Curious.  


Jennifer, this thread is two years old. Wish they would close zombie threads like this, or at least put a buzzer on them.

Active Member
Heather S Member Since: Apr 9, 2019
8 of 61
 
Community Guru
Tiffany S Member Since: Jan 15, 2016
9 of 61

Phyllis G wrote:


Jennifer, this thread is two years old. Wish they would close zombie threads like this, or at least put a buzzer on them.


Actually, the resurrection of this thread is quite timely. Just about six weeks ago, Law360 reported that a company called LegalForce has filed a lawsuit against Upwork in California state court alleging unfair business practice and violation of fee splitting prohibitions.

Active Member
Heather S Member Since: Apr 9, 2019
10 of 61
Thanks for this information. I don’t know what others are doing, but I am only using Upwork for legal writing type things... nothing that involves legal advice. It would be great if Upwork took steps to be in compliance with the requirements for “lawyer referral services” or something along those lines. Appreciate everyone’s input.
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