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

 

BOARD OF PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE SUPREME COURT OF TENNESSEE

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.

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