A newspaper has undertaken a program for the benefit of the Puerto Rican community which it has entitled in its columns “Clinica Legal” – meaning, “Legal Clinic”.
Through this column it advises its Spanish speaking readers that if they are in need of legal advice, but cannot afford to pay a lawyer, or if, perhaps, they do not as yet know enough English, or their way about the community, that it will secure assistance for them on a free basis.
In aid of this program it has invited the participation of a number of attorneys, who speak or understand Spanish, on a voluntary, free basis.
The applicants for legal aid are advised through the said “Clinica Legal” column as to the dates on which the volunteer- attorneys will be present at its office for free consultation. If in its preliminary screening of these applicants it appears that their income does not entitle them to free service, they will then be referred to the Referral Service of the Bar Associations; or, if the matter on which the applicant comes presents the prospect of a contingent fee, then, too, the applicant will be sent to the Referral Service of the Bar Associations for further attention.
Is it proper for the invited attorneys to participate in this program?
In the opinion of the Committee it is not proper for the attorneys to participate in such a program even if they are not compensated for their professional services.
Canon 35 of the Canons of Professional Ethics provides in part as follows:
“The professional services of a lawyer should not be controlled or exploited by any lay agency, personal or corporate, which intervenes between client and lawyer. * * * He should avoid all relations which direct the performance of his duties by or in the interest of such intermediary. * * * Charitable societies rendering aid to the indigents are not deemed such intermediaries.”
A newspaper clearly is not a charitable society but is in fact a lay agency, the circulation and income of which presumably might be increased by the maintenance of the proposed legal clinic, and the professional services of the participating lawyers exploited for the benefit of the newspaper. Accordingly their participation is not approved.
It should be noted that legal aid clinics supervised and controlled by Bar Associations are available and have been approved. See American Bar Association Committee Opinions 166, 191 and 205.
Dated: October 19, 1956