85-F-87 - Law Firm selling subscriptions to publication

FORMAL ETHICS OPINION 85-F-87


Inquiry is made concerning the propriety of a law firm selling to nonclients
subscriptions to a monthly publication designed to provide
information to laypersons of current developments in various areas of the
law.


The law firm currently distributes a monthly publication to its clients at no charge. The
publication contains articles written by attorneys of the law firm reporting recent legal
developments and legislative action in certain areas of the law.
The publication is prepared for the purpose of educating the layperson to recognize
potential legal problems and to inform them as to various developments in the law. The
publication contains no biographical data on the firm or its attorneys. The publication
does not attempt to offer solutions to individual problems and contains an express
disclaimer to this effect.
The law firm proposes to sell subscriptions to their publications to non-clients by
circulating a brochure explaining the publications and offering annual subscriptions. The
brochure does not advertise the availability of legal services nor mention specific areas of
legal practice. The brochures will be distributed to laypersons in the business community
via direct mail or by forming a separate publications corporation to handle the advertising
brochure, distribution and selling of the publication. The actual delivery of the brochure
and the publication will not be handled by attorneys of the law firm.
Ethical Consideration 2-5 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which is aspirational
and states objectives toward which lawyers should strive states:
EC 2-5. A lawyer who writes or speaks for the
purpose of educating members of the public to recognize
their legal problems should carefully refrain from giving or
appearing to give a general solution applicable to all
apparently similar individual problems since slight changes
in fact situations may require a material variance in the
applicable advice; otherwise, the public may be misled and
misadvised. Talks and writing by lawyers for laymen
should caution them not to attempt to solve individual
problems upon the basis of the information contained
therein.
85-F-87 Page 2
Disciplinary Rule 2-104(A)(4) of the Code which is mandatory and states a minimum
level of conduct expected of the lawyer states:
DR 2-104(A)(4). Without affecting his rights to accept
employment, a lawyer may speak publicly or write for
publication on legal topics so long as he does not
emphasize his own professional experience or reputation
and does not undertake to give individual advice.
Other Disciplinary Rules material to this inquiry are 2-101(C), 2-101(M) and 2-102(A)
which are cited in Formal Ethics Opinion 83-F-49. The Ethics Committee in Formal
Ethics Opinions 83-F-49(a) stated:
The intent and thrust of the recent decisions and rule
changes are to foster informed decision making by potential
consumers of legal services while safeguarding privacy and
protecting against overreaching by lawyers.
There is no impropriety in a law firm selling subscriptions to a monthly publication to
non-clients, as described herein, and which is designed to provide information to
laypersons of current developments in various areas of the law; and, there is no
impropriety in circulating a brochure explaining the publications and offering annual
subscriptions as proposed herein, provided there is compliance with the Disciplinary
Rules contained in Canon 2 of the Code of Professional Responsibility relating to
publicity.
This 16th day of January , 1985.
ETHICS COMMITTEE:
C. T. Herndon, III
T. Maxfield Bahner
G. Wilson Horde
APPROVED AND ADOPTED BY THE BOARD