May a New York State Senator or Assemblyman or a New York City Councilman maintain an official office in the offices of his law partnership? If so, may the entrance door to the law offices recite his title in addition to the names of the partnership and its members, and may the lawyer’s inner office door display his title?
May a legislator conduct his private law practice in his public legislative offices, and display an attorney’s sign at that location?
It would be improper for a member of the State Legislature or the City Council to conduct a law practice, alone or in partnership, in the same space as that in which he maintains his official office. It is true that the Code, by implication, and many opinions of Committees on Professional Ethics have recognized the right of a lawyer to conduct a legal practice while simultaneously engaging in another occupation. However, such right is qualified by various conditions, the object of which is to prevent the second occupation from being used to publicize the lawyer as a lawyer, in violation of DR 2-101 (B), and hence as a means of indirect solicitation of legal business.
Thus, DR 2-102(E) provides that:
“A lawyer who is engaged both in the practice of law and another profession or business shall not so indicate on his letterhead, office sign, or professional card, nor shall he identify himself as a lawyer in any publication in connection with his other profession or business.”
The question was considered in depth in N.Y. State 206 (1970). It was there stated that:
“The fundemental principle behind these limitations is to protect the public and the profession against improper solicitation, advertising or commercialization, and to keep the other occupation from being used as a cloak for improper solicitation or from being deliberately used as a direct or indirect feeder of legal work.”
See also N. Y. County 594 (1971); N. Y. City 883 (1974); N. Y. State 307 (1973); ABA 328 (1971).
It was recognized in N. Y. State 206, supra, that the danger of a lawyer’s using a second profession or business as a feeder for legal work is greater in the case of some occupations than in others. For example: insurance agents and real estate or mortgage brokers and labor relations consultants are engaged in occupations that very frequently involve problems of a legal nature, and hence may readily be the source of legal work.
When the second business or profession is so law-related, and is advertised or otherwise publicized, it would be improper to conduct it and a law practice in the same premises. The Rule was stated in N. Y. State 206, supra, in the following language:
“If the business is one in which advertising and promotion are permitted, no material used in connection with the business may disclose the fact that a participant is a lawyer, and the business should be conducted on premises sufficiently separate from those of the law practice to avoid having the clients or customers of the business gain the impression that the two are related.” (underscoring added)
It can scarcely be denied that a member of a legislative body is engaged in an occupation that brings him in frequent contact with problems of a legal nature, with respect to which individuals require professional guidance. Nor is it open to serious question that a legislator relies upon self promotion in order to achieve and hold his office.
A lawyer holding public office must be particularly careful to avoid even an appearance of impropriety in the conduct of his dual occupations. Were he to identify his practice of the law with his official title, he inevitably would create an impression in the public mind that his official position would be useful in certain types of legal matters, in violation of Can. 9 and DR 9-101(C). See EC 9-1, 2, 6; EC 8-8. As stated in ABA 192 (1939):
“. . . . an attorney holding public office should avoid all conduct which might lead the layman to conclude that the attorney is utilizing his public position to further his professional success or personal interests .”
See, also, N, Y. County 72 (1915).
Because of the inherent dangers of impropriety, a lawyer should not use the same space as an official legislative office and for the conduct of his law practice.
January 30, 1975.