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The code of conduct for lawyers cannot obstruct the rise of price-comparison websites for lawyers

13-12-2018

Lawyers are allowed to pay any reasonable amount to price-comparison websites for getting them a job. This can be concluded from the recently published interpretation of the Dutch Bar (NOvA)’s own Code of Conduct. Lawyers would still have to meet certain conditions in such situations. Following a study, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) had urged NOvA to implement this change.

Martijn Snoep, Chairman of the Board of ACM, explains: ‘With the Dutch Bar’s interpretation of its Code of Conduct for lawyers, a barrier for price-comparison websites to bring together lawyers and clients has been eliminated. That is great news for consumers and businesses that seek legal assistance.’

What was the issue?

Businesses often pay a fee to price-comparison websites if they get customers through one of them. ACM’s study revealed that price-comparison websites for lawyers are having a hard time getting off the ground because of uncertainty over the interpretation of the lawyers’ code of conduct. One price-comparison website for lawyers had filed a complaint about this with ACM. Based on competition rules, lawyers should, in principle, be able to decide themselves whether and if so, how much they want to pay for services offered by price-comparison websites. This did not happen because of the uncertainty over the interpretation of the code of conduct. ACM will keep a close watch on developments in this market, and may take enforcement action should a violation of competition rules occur.

Price-comparison websites for lawyers offer consumers and businesses benefits

Consumers and businesses more and more often go online in search for a lawyer. On price-comparison websites, lawyers are able to present themselves to individuals who seek legal assistance. Such websites make it easier for visitors to compare lawyers in terms of price, expertise, and location. If a consumer or a business has selected a lawyer through such a website, that lawyer is allowed to pay any reasonable amount to the website for its services. For example, this could be a flat fee, a subscription, or a fee based on a percentage of the client’s bill from the lawyer in question.