March 20, 2008
Suspension For Living Trust Bait-And-Switch
An Ohio attorney entered into a contract with a Michigan law firm "to market and sell living trusts and other estate-planning services in Ohio." He was paid per referral but "prohibited from offering any financial advice to his clients regarding the funding of the trust." The Michigan firm used direct mail and telephone solicitations to find prospective clients. In one matter, after a couple who had been so solicited agreed to purchase a standard living trust, the attorney gave the client information to the Michigan firm without the clients' knowledge or consent. After a follow up meeting with an agent of the Michigan firm and the lawyer regarding the funding of the trust, the clients became suspicious and filed a bar complaint.
Disciplinary counsel charged 11 violations "stemming from [the lawyer's] business relationship with [the Michigan firm] and his representation of [the clients]." The Ohio Supreme Court suspended the lawyer for one year, with six months stayed. "Respondent was well aware that [the Michigan firm's] funding agents worked on commission, and that their primary objective was to sell insurance. Yet respondent never told the [clients] that they would be subject to an insurance sales pitch...respondent engaged in a number of misrepresentations by omission." He also had violated his duties of confidentiality and to provide independent legal advice, as well as other ethical violations. (Mike Frisch)
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