The following is a statement of the facts upon which my question is predicated.
A labor union has a counselling service through which its members are entitled to receive advice on various problems. Some of the areas presently included within this service are: advice concerning language difficulties; health problems; employment difficulties; etc.
The service proposes to expand its area of coverage to include a legal counselling aspect. The lawyer in charge of this would receive no compensation from either the union or the individual members. The union would have no control over the lawyer nor would there be any direction imposed upon him. His primary function would be to direct members to the proper authority for amelioration of their difficulties. For example, if a member enquired concerning a landlord – tenant matter the attorney, if appropriate, would refer such member to the Temporary State Housing Rent Commission.
In the event that the member’s problem required the assistance of a lawyer for its solution the counselling attorney would so advise. There would be no compulsion, nor indeed not even a suggestion, from any source, that the member employ the counselling attorney. There would be no advertisement other than a simple general statement of the existence of the service made by a union shop steward to union members in a particular shop. The name and address of the counselling attorney would be withheld from such statements. The service itself would be conducted on the premises of the union.
Question: Would such a course of conduct by an attorney be violative of Canon 35 or any other Canon of Professional Ethics?
There is no ethical impropriety in the union expanding its counselling service to include on the panel thereof an attorney who would refer members of the union to appropriate government agencies for aid in the solution of their difficulties, nor would there appear to be any violation of the Canons of Ethics if the attorney should advise them to employ a lawyer to assist them in their problems. The following precautions, however, should be taken:
1. The service should continue to be known as “counselling service” and not as “legal counselling service”.
2. The attorney employed by the union should not accept professional employment from any member of the union with respect to any matter which comes to him through such counselling service nor should he recommend the employment of a particular attorney, otherwise the proposed service could be used as a cloak for the solicitation of professional employment in violation of Canon 27.
3. Since the counselling service is conducted by a lay organization, the attorney serving on the panel should not perform legal services, give legal advice or furnish the services of any attorney, as such practices would violate the spirit, if not the letter, of Canon 35, and might also involve violation of the statutes prohibiting the unlawful practice of law.
Dated: June 23, 1960.