ETHICS OPINION 244
NUMBER 244 1926
Question. Canon 27 of the American Bar Association says that the solicitation of business by personal communications or interviews not warranted by personal relations is unprofessional.
Canon 28 says that it is unprofessional for a lawyer to volunteer advice to bring a law suit, except in rare cases where ties of blood, relationship, or trust make it his duty to do so; and that it is disreputable to hunt up causes of action and inform thereof in order to be employed to bring suit, or to breed litigation by seeking persons having any ground of action in order to secure them as clients.
The Committee has disapproved a lawyer soliciting the executor under an early will to employ him for its probate, where a later will has been propounded and not admitted to probate for lack of sufficient proof (Opinion 73); and it has disapproved a lawyer becoming counsel for a company organized to investigate rates of public service corporations, and to advise patrons of overcharges, and to take them up for adjustment or litigation (Opinion 140); and it has disapproved a lawyer advising strangers, voluntarily and unsolicited, of facts upon which they can predicate legal rights and will probably employ the lawyer to enforce them against the national Government to prevent it from collecting an illegal tax, though the lawyer does not solicit employment (Opinion 199); it has disapproved a lawyer without previous employment apprising a husband of facts learned by the lawyer, entitling the husband to secure an annulment of his marriage, and accepting employment to secure the annulment (Opinion 224); it has disapproved oilers to collect unsatisfied judgments through information possessed by the offering attorney (Opinion 227).
On the other hand the Committee has not disapproved a lawyer’s advising his client to seek adverse claimants of property, the establishment of whose interests by litigation will aid to establish his own rights and to secure a prompt adjudication of them; and also selecting counsel for such claimants to insure proper consideration by the Court (Opinion 210); and it has not disapproved an attorney interested for one client seeking to ascertain whether there are others similarly situated and to communicate with their attorneys seeking their cooperation to institute litigation for the common benefit, the promotion of the clients’ interest being regarded as possibly furnishing an exception to the general rule of disapprobation (Opinion 228). There are lawyers who are equipped by experience and familiarity with condemnation proceedings and real property values, and who are equipped to handle such cases with expedition.
In such cases neither the property owner nor the lawyer stirs up or incites litigation; the proceeding is instigated and conducted in the public interest to acquire property; and the property owner is entitled to just compensation to be ascertained according to law, the testimony of experts familiar with values is usually essential.
It is not an uncommon practice for lawyers devoting themselves to this branch of the profession to notify property owners of their rights and to seek employment upon a contingent basis to enforce them. The expense of expert testimony distributed among a number of property owners is likely to fall less heavily on each, and in some cases the expense of establishing individual rights can be ratably diminished. It is probable that the interests of property owners similarly situated, but having properties of different values, can be better sub served, if they are represented by one attorney for all or several of such interests, and the proceeding is apt to be shortened by such representation and presentation. The interests of such property owners usually are not antagonistic to one another.
It is urged that since the solicitation of such employment is not stirring up litigation, but rather tends to promote the speedy and just termination of necessary litigation, it does not fall within the principle of Canon 28, and that an exception should be recognized in such cases to the condemnation of solicitation of employment by Canon 27.
The opinion of the Committee is asked.
Answer. In the opinion of the Committee the reasons urged in the question to justify the practice are insufficient to take the case out of the condemnation of solicitation by Canon 27 of the American Bar Association, and the Committee disapproves of such solicitation.