NUMBER 340 1937
Question. The X corporation, a manufacturer, is desirous of sponsoring a program on the radio which will consist of dramatizations of oddities in the law. The corporation desires to employ attorneys to assist in these dramatizations and to discuss various legal topics. During the broadcast, an announcement will be made by the sponsor informing listeners that legal questions will be answered by the attorneys taking part in the program. All questions are to be mailed to the radio studio. Those questions of general interest will be answered on the following week’s broadcast, those not of general interest will be answered by mail, not on the stationery of an attorney, but on the letterhead of the program, “Your Attorney” or “The Unknown Attorney.” The names of the attorneys taking part in the program or in the answering of questions will not be mentioned or disclosed to inquirers, and no charge will be made by them for their services to the public. The only fees that the attorneys will receive will be that paid to them by the corporation for taking part in the program.
Would it be professionally proper for an attorney to accept employment under the aforementioned state of facts?
Answer. In the opinion of the Committee, the proposed answering by broadcast and mail of legal questions submitted by mail, coupled with the radio discussion of legal topics, is to be condemned on several grounds. A lawyer may with propriety write articles for publications in which he gives information upon the law (Canon 40, Canons of Professional Ethics), provided they constitute dignified and instructive treatment of the law. its history, philosophy, and interpretation (Opinion 92, Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances of the American Bar Association). But he should not accept employment from such publications to advise inquirers in respect to their individual rights (Canon 40). A lawyer is not justified in giving an opinion without an opportunity to obtain from his client adequate information as to the facts in the client’s case and the documents which the lawyer may deem material, nor can the client be safe in acting on generalizations. Moreover, others having problems similar to the question answered may be misled into accepting the published question and answer as applicable to their own problems (Opinion 98 of the American Bar Association Committee).
The Committee has previously stated that it considers that the answering of questions respecting the legal rights of the inquirers to whom the attorney does not sustain a professional relation is not to be approved, because it tends to diminish the sense of personal responsibility of the attorney to the person so inquiring, and it introduces an intermediary who furnishes the professional service. (See Opinion 203; also Opinion 264.)
The Committee is not empowered to answer questions of law and therefore expresses no opinion as to whether or not the proposed procedure, in view of the part played in it by the X corporation, would involve unlawful practice of the law. It points out, however, that if the plan is open to that objection participation therein by attorneys would clearly be professionally improper.
In the opinion of the Committee, while nondisclosure of the attorneys’ names tends to preclude advertising of the attorneys through this program and the use of it by them as a device for soliciting professional employment, it also tends to still further diminish their sense of professional responsibility.
Finally, it is the opinion of the Committee that the vices in the plan are not cured by the fact that the attorneys are to receive their financial compensation solely from the X corporation. If their fee includes remuneration for the answering of inquiries, the corporation is clearly a lay intermediary. If such service as is rendered to the public is in fact gratuitous, it is too closely associated with paid services to be free from the suspicion of selfish motives. Gratuitous legal advice can be and is better rendered by established organizations which, after adequate examination of the facts and the law, give careful and competent counsel, which assume responsibility for the advice given, and which are subject to proper supervision.
For the foregoing reasons, the Committee is of the opinion that it would not be professionally proper for an attorney to accept the proposed employment.