The question relates to the propriety of a member of the New York Bar serving as a panelist on a proposed television program, which will continue for a number of weeks. The other panelists would be business men of standing who would evaluate the marketability, merchandising, cost and consumer interest of inventions. The question states that the attorney’s part would be to give non-legal advice on any specific problem of the inventor, that only persons who had been granted patents or who had filed patent applications would appear on the program, but that the program would not cover actual cases or litigation.
In the Association of the Bar’s Opinion No. 716 the following principles were laid down concerning the appearance of attorneys on a television program:
1. The attorney may be referred to by name and profession only, without a description of his firm or specialty. Otherwise there might be a violation of Canon No. 27 relating to advertising.
2. No actual cases should be considered unless they have been finally adjudicated.
3. Precaution should be taken that the program is in good taste and in accordance with the dignity of the profession pursuant to Canon No. 29.
In addition to the restrictions of this opinion consideration must be given to Rule 1-A of the special rules relating to conduct of attorneys in the First Judicial Department, to the effect that it is professional misconduct for an attorney to advise inquirers or render an opinion to them through a publicity medium of any kind in respect to specific legal problems.
With specific reference to patents it was stated in Opinion 648 of the Association of the Bar that it would be improper to advise an inventor concerning the property rights in an idea, as part of a radio program.
The limitations of Canon No. 40, which sanctions writing articles on legal subjects for publication, are pointed out in Drinker on Legal Ethics (1953) page 264.
Under the precise facts set forth in the inquiry, the lawyer’s participation as a panelist may be proper, but the procedure involves almost inevitable dangers, since a lawyer commenting on specific problems of an inventor may have difficulty in confining himself to non-legal advice. If the attorney takes part he should be introduced by name and described only as a member of the New York Bar. He should not give any legal opinion on any pending matter and should make sure that the entire program is in accordance with the standards of taste and dignity described above.
Dated: January 8, 1960.