LegalMatch, an online company that connects people with legal problems to lawyers who have a subscription, does operate as a lawyer referral service, a California appeals court ruled, reversing a lower court’s finding in a suit brought against an attorney and former member of the site.

LegalMatch sued Dorian Jackson after he allegedly failed to pay his service subscription fees. Jackson alleged the company was operating as an uncertified lawyer referral service, which would invalidate the contract and the charge. The lower court found it wasn’t such a service because LegalMatch didn’t exercise judgment on its clients’ legal issues.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District reversed, holding that LegalMatch’s own judgment on client business wasn’t a factor that should even be considered under Business and Professions Code section 6155--which regulates entities that refer potential clients to attorneys.

“Under section 6155, it does not matter whether LegalMatch exercises judgment on an individual’s legal issues before communicating that information to a lawyer,” Justice Tracie L. Brown wrote Nov. 26. “Rather, a referral occurs when an entity directs or sends a potential client to an attorney.”

LegalMatch had also argued that Jackson waived his argument on appeal, in part because he purportedly changed his position, but the appellate panel found that wasn’t the case.

The appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered renewed consideration of whether the complaint is barred by allegedly unethical activity by Jackson. The clean hands doctrine issue was previously skipped over, the judges said.

Acting Presiding Justice Jon B. Streeter and Justice Alison M. Tucher joined the decision.

The case is Jackson vs., Cal. Ct. App., 1st Dist., No. A152442, 11/26/19.