OBA Ethics Counsel
Ethics Opinion No. 163
Adopted January 14, 1953
A county bar association wants to know whether or not it can conduct an advertising display in local papers to the effect that "no one but an attorney should prepare your legal papers". We presume that other similar statements would be carried and that the ads would point out the unfortunate consequences of the failure to secure competent legal advice in the drafting of said papers.
Such advertising does not offend against any of the Canons of Professional Ethics. The American Bar Association in Opinion No. 179 had a related question and treated the same quite extensively in said Opinion. The Opinion discusses the question at length and approves such advertising with certain conditions and restrictions. We adopt and quote from said Opinion as follows:
"That it would be wise in the vast majority of cases for a person, who contemplates the giving or receiving of a conveyance, the execution of a contract, the execution of a declaration of trust, the drafting and executing of a will, the disposition of property where taxes on the transfer are involved, or taking action with respect to other like matters, to employ a lawyer in advance of acting, must be admitted.
The employment of a lawyer to protect the client's rights, advance his interests, comply with necessary legal requirements, keep within legal inhibitions, and prevent future controversy and litigation, rather than to employ a lawyer after trouble has ensued, benefits the client rather than the lawyer because the remuneration of the lawyer is generally greater from the latter than the former service. A lawyer receives much less compensation for seeing that a will is properly drafted and executed than for defending a hotly contested will case.
We recognize a distinction between teaching the lay public the importance of securing legal services preventive in character and the solicitation of professional employment by or for a particular lawyer. The former tends to promote the public interest and enhance the public estimation of the profession. The latter is calculated to injure the public and degrade the profession.
The practice of law is affected with a public interest. Society as a whole, as well as the individual client, is interested in the service rendered by the lawyer because it directly affects the maintenance of order and harmony in business and social relations and the due administration of justice. If the public interest is to be best served the profession must merit and have the confidence and respect of the public. One way to obtain that confidence and respect is to render a more useful professional service.
Advertising which is calculated to teach the layman the benefits and advantages of preventive legal services will benefit the lay public and enable the lawyer to render a more desirable and beneficial professional service. It may tend to decrease rather than increase the sum total remuneration rereceived by lawyers, but because of the trouble, disappointments, controversy, and litigation it will prevent, it will enhance the public esteem of the legal profession and create a better relation between the profession and the general public.
The prevention of controversy and litigation will also improve the social order. It will lessen the instances in which the lay public may feel that a person's honest intentions and desires have been frustrated by what the layman chooses to call the 'technicalities' of the law. It will result in the public acquiring a higher regard for the legal profession, the judicial process, and the judicial establishments.
In carrying out a project to educate the lay public with respect to the benefits of preventive legal services, certain possible evils should be carefully guarded against.
First, it should be carried on by the organized bar in order that any semblance of personal solicitation will be avoided.
Second, that the purpose is to give the layman beneficial information, to enable lawyers as a whole to render a better professional service, to promote order in society, to prevent controversy and litigation and to enhance the public esteem of the legal profession, the judicial process and the judicial establishments, should be made plain.
Third, it must in fact be motivated by a desire to benefit the lay public and carried out in such a way as to avoid the impression that it is actuated by selfish desire to increase professional employment; and any plan, however well intended, that on trial fails to convince the lay public that the purpose is to benefit the layman and not to promote professional employment should be promptly abandoned.
Fourth, it should be carried on in a manner in keeping with the dignity and traditions of the profession."
In addition to the possible evils above set forth, we are of the opinion that the name or names of all individuals, including the officers of the Association should be omitted from said advertisements.
In Gunnels v. Atlantic Bar Association, 191 Ga. 366, 12 S.E.2d 602, 132 A.L.R. 1165, the associations publicizing its campaign against usurious lenders and the offer of free legal services were held not objectionable. A discussion of this case is found in 25 Minn. L.Rev. 788.