OBA Ethics Counsel
Ethics Opinion No. 198
Adopted August 13, 1959
An attorney has requested an opinion as to whether or not offering his services as a "skip tracer" (locating missing persons) to lawyers in this area would violate the Canons of Ethics. He suggests that his services would be contingent upon his success in locating the missing person. We presume this does not mean contingent upon the successful outcome of the litigation or prosecution.
It is the opinion of the Committee that the lawyer is on dangerous ground but that if the proposed business is conducted from an office separate from that in which he practices law, is solicited and conducted in such a manner as will not reveal his identity as a member of the Bar and in fact is not used in a manner as a means of soliciting or securing employment as a lawyer, it does not violate the Canons. There is nothing in the Canons to prevent a lawyer from carrying on a business entirely distinct from and unrelated to the practice of law. The danger in this instance is obvious in view of the fact that services offered, though not strictly constituting "practice of law," are performed for lawyers or litigants and the temptation to utilize this relationship for the "solicitation or securing employment as a lawyer" will be great. On the other hand, the distinction between extra-legal services here suggested and the legal services offered in the "Income Tax Services" matter (Opinion No. 196) and "Claims Adjusting" (Opinion No. 197) is likewise apparent.
The three opinions rendered this date on the general question of lawyers engaging in independent occupations emphasize the importance of the qualities of good taste and good faith which should govern the conduct of any lawyer when confronted with problems involving ethical conduct. See Drinker on Legal Ethics, p. 221.