96-F-138 - Bail Bondsman Distributing Lawyer's Card

Formal Ethics Opinion 96-F-138


Inquiry is made as to the propriety of an attorney supplying business cards to a bail bondsman so that the bondsman may refer cases to the attorney.


The Code of Professional Responsibility specifically addresses solicitation in DR 2-103(A):


DR 2-103. Recommendation of Professional Employment


(A) A lawyer shall not, except as authorized in DR 2-101(B),
recommend employment as a private practitioner, of himself,
his partner, or associate to a layperson who has not sought his
advice regarding employment of a lawyer.


(B) A lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value
to a person or organization to recommend or secure his
employment by a client or as a reward for having made a
recommendation resulting in his employment by a client,
except that he may pay the usual and reasonable fees or dues
charged by any of the organizations listed in DR 2-103(D).


(C) A lawyer shall not request a person or organization to
recommend or promote the use of his services or those of his
partner or associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with him or
his firm, as a private practitioner, except as authorized in DR
2-101, and except that:


(1) He may request referrals from a lawyer
referral service operated, sponsored, or
approved by a bar association and may pay its
fees incident thereto.


(2) He may cooperate with the legal service
activities of any of the offices or organizations
96-F-138 Opinion
enumerated in DR 2-103(D)(1) through (4) and may perform legal
services for those to whom he was recommended by it to do such
work if:


(a) The person to whom the
recommendation is made is a
member or beneficiary of such
office or organization; and


(b) The lawyer remains free to
exercise his or her independent
professional judgment on behalf
of his client.


According to DR 2-103(D), the only organizations that a lawyer may be recommended, employed or paid by, or cooperate with to promote the use of his services are: a legal aid office or public defender office; a military legal assistance office, a lawyer referral service operated, sponsored, or approved by a bar association; and any bona fide organization that recommends, furnishes or pays for legal services to its members, subject to strict conditions. A bail bondsman is not included in this list of permissible organizations.


In addition to the prohibitions on solicitation in DR 2-103, DR 1-102(A)(2) states a lawyer may not circumvent a Disciplinary Rule through actions of another. If the lawyer could not engage in the solicitation, he may not utilize the services of an agent to do what the lawyer is prohibited from doing.


It is clearly unethical for a lawyer to pay, or even request, a bail bondsman to refer cases to the lawyer. Therefore, it is unethical for the lawyer to give the bail bondsman the lawyer's business card and request that the bondsman refer criminal cases to the lawyer.


This 8th day of March, 1996.


ETHICS COMMITTEE:


Donna Simpson Massa, Chair
Barbara J. Moss
Larry D. Wilks


APPROVED AND ADOPTED BY THE BOARD