Ethics Counsel on www.OKbar.org

OBA Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 180

Adopted March 9, 1955

QUERY

Is it ethical to run professional cards in a newspaper?

ANSWER

This question has been answered in the negative so many times that one would think the question was settled beyond doubt.

The only justification for this opinion is to answer two rather untenable contentions made to justify the insertion of the cards in the papers.

In one case the professional cards of two lawyers appear in the paper under the heading "Business and Professional Directory." The card reads:

"Name

Attorney-at-Law

City, Oklahoma

Address Telephone No."

The other reads,

"Lawyer

Name Address Phone

P.O. Box City, Oklahoma"

In the first instance the two lawyers take the position that they did not ask for the cards to be run, that they did not pay nor agree to pay for the ads and that they have no responsibility to direct the newspaper publisher to cease and desist.

In the second instance the lawyer attempts to justify his running the ad by saying,

"I notice my name is not in the yellow page of the Telephone directory, I see most of the other attorneys names are listed therein .... I thought to be even with them, I would let the local newspaper insert my name and place in their paper .... Now one or two of our young sprouts said they were taking this up with the Bar Board. .... I told them this name was no different in and not as much advertising as they had in the Telephone directory, since their names was so inserted as per the papers inclosed, and the ad at many different places calling upon the public to first get the fellows names who are listed in this yellow sheet, before they get elsewhere."

He enclosed the yellow page (classified) of Attorneys which gives their names, addresses and phone numbers. Then pasted to this portion are 19 different ads which read in part, "Look first in the yellow pages," or "Let the yellow pages be your shopping helper", etc.

In Opinion 169 we reviewed the opinions of both the Oklahoma and the American Bar Associations. We recommend the reading of that Opinion.

We shall consider the contentions above set out in order.

As to the first--it is indirect advertising for the cards to appear in said paper even though nothing is paid for their insertion. There is a duty on the part of the lawyers to request the editor to leave the card out of the paper, explaining that the insertion is unethical.

In Advisory Opinion No. 120 appearing in the 1937 Year Book it is said,

"The publishers who have heretofore carried the name or card of the inquirer without his consent should be notified in positive terms to discontinue the listing ... in future publications ....

Should publishers ... continue to carry the name or cards ... after having been notified to discontinue ... the members whose names are carried in those publications should notify the Secretary of the State Bar of the facts."

Opinion No. 120 then suggests that the publisher may be enjoined if he continues to carry the name.

In A.B.A. Opinion 62, it is said, "... it was the duty of the lawyer as soon as his attention was called thereto, to request and require the publisher to discontinue publication .... The failure to so do would permit him to be 'advertised' by indirection contrary to the provisions of Canon 27."

As to the second contention:

We feel certain that the lawyer is responsible for his name not appearing in the yellow page. Just because it does not appear therein does not justify his publishing it in the paper.

The listing in the classified portion of the telephone book is not advertising for as said in A.B.A. Opinion No. 284,

"... the listing of lawyers under some suitable general classification such as ... 'Attorneys at Law', is not to be discouraged, ..., because the public is entitled to information regarding the names and addresses of lawyers.

Hence questions relating to the use of a classified directory must be resolved by balancing the public interest against the incidental publicity accorded the individual lawyer. Where the publicity accorded each lawyer is the same, there can be no undue advantage. However, where the lawyer seeks some distinctive method of self-classification which is different from the general informative listing of his fellow lawyers, it becomes improper advertising or solicitation and offends Canon 27."

By inserting or permitting others to insert cards in the newspaper is a clear attempt on the part of these lawyers to attempt to segregate themselves for special attention and is unethical.

An attorney was reprimanded in California for the insertion of such a card in the newspaper. See Barton v. State Bar of Cal., 209 Cal. 677, 289 P. 818.