ETHICS OPINION 239
NUMBER 239 1926
Question. There is under consideration by a daily trade paper having a wide territorial circulation and publishing news of the courts and legal notices, a plan to publish daily in the paper a limited list of law firms, specializing in commercial law practice, adjustments, collections, etc., covering every trade center throughout the United States, and classified alphabetically according to states.
The paper expects to charge an advertising rate for the appearance and publication of the names, but primarily the publication has been determined upon to provide subscribers with a national list of attorneys to whom they could forward, direct, collection items and other matters requiring the attention of a lawyer.
These names will be taken from a much larger list of commercial lawyers published by a reliable and very widely known corporation. The larger list will be named at the head of the newspaper’s column as the source of the limited list. The heading will state further that all firms listed provide service in adjacent or regional territory through traveling adjusters or resident correspondents.
Lawyers admitted to the newspaper’s list will merely pay the fixed advertising rate varied, however, according to the commercial importance of their community; and nothing but their name and address will appear, except in the explanatory heading of the source, character and purpose of the list. The newspaper is not a forwarder nor a receiver nor a solicitor of claims, and will have no connection with them save the publication of the list. The advertising rate will have no relation to the lawyers’ fees.
In the opinion of the Committee is there any professional impropriety in a lawyer permitting his name to appear in such list and paying the advertising rate therefor, or in such publication by the newspaper?
Answer. The following is the opinion of the majority of the Committee:
The American Bar Association has condemned the bonding of attorneys in the faithful performance of their duties as attorneys (Vol. XL VIII. Annual Reports, 1923, pp. 60, 285). Its Committee on Commerce, Trade and Commercial Law reported that this manner of use of attorneys’ names for advertising purposes (i.e., lists of bonded attorneys) should not meet with the approval of the Association, and that it is contrary to the dignity of the profession and detracts from it for an attorney to have advertised that he is a guaranteed lawyer in a collection agency list in order that he may get credit for faithfulness in his business, upon the ground that such a custom is beneath the honor and dignity of the profession. This Committee concurs in that disapproval.
If the list of lawyers, as proposed in the question is, whether so stated or not, to be confined to lawyers who have given such bonds, this Committee cannot approve its publication. Otherwise, the Committee cannot see any more objection to its publication in a trade paper than in the current annuals of law lists. (See Committee’s Opinion 47 indicating matters to be avoided, which from- the present question appear to be here avoided.)
Then, as to the propriety of a lawyer paying for the insertion of his name in such a list: This Committee recognizes the fact that lists of reputable capable sawyers are of much use to merchants and to lawyers as well. Although strictly speaking, such a payment is for an advertisement, vet where the amount paid is insignificant, the Committee is of the opinion that the same answer should be given as it gave in Opinion I, that it is a matter of personal taste.
A minority of the Committee are of the opinion that paid advertising by a lawyer in a law list is objectionable.
The above question and answer were submitted in behalf of this Committee to the Committee on Professional Ethics of The Association of the Bar of the City of New York for an expression of its opinion and said Committee adopted the following answer as the opinion of a majority:
A majority of this Committee concur in the foregoing opinion of the Committee on Professional Ethics of the New York County Lawyers’ Association; in so concurring, however, the Committee recognizes the indefinite implication of the word ‘insignificant.’ and thereby it means that the amount paid shall not justify the inference that it is a payment for a recommendation nor the buying of business by the lawyer in any guise.