OBA Ethics Counsel
Ethics Opinion No. 203
Adopted November 2, 1959
The Central Committee of the Oklahoma Bar Association has submitted to its Legal Ethics Committee the following inquiry:
A member of the bar recently admitted to the practice has been approached by a newspaper reporter with a request that the reporter be allowed to do a feature story for his paper concerning the problems facing the lawyer in acquiring his legal education subsequent to his separation from military service and during a period in which he was married, had a family to support and held a responsible daytime job, all while attending night law school. It is the announced intention of the reporter to, in this manner, reveal the trials and tribulations of the typical night law school student and inform the public at large of the long hours of preparation and study necessary to become an attorney. The article will also include the problems faced by an attorney immediately after his admission to practice. The attorney will receive no consideration, and the article was not solicited, but wholly the idea of the newspaper reporter.
The question requires a re-examination and interpretation of Canon 27. Few Canons require more interpretation and evaluation as does Canon 27. Equally so, no other Canon, it would seem, is so flagrantly and often violated, usually by misunderstanding, misinterpretation and ignorance of its full import and intent. Especially has this become true in recent years by the increased interest and activity by the various news media into actual court proceedings and the news value of lawyers' associations thereto. This Committee is not unmindful of its primary duty to the public as a whole, as well as its desire to promote cooperation and understanding between the various news media and the legal profession. However, it reaffirms Canon 27 as a vital, necessary and integral part of the ethics of the legal profession. And all members of the bar are admonished to follow its spirit and intent.
While it is not an impropriety for attorneys to permit their pictures to be published for outstanding civic service, service to the bar association and in connection with social functions and the like, it is equally unquestionably a violation of this Canon to solicit or permit publicity concerning personal achievements or actions relating to specific legal representation or accomplishments and when doubt exists, such doubt should be resolved in favor of the Canon and the particular doubtful activity not permitted.
In regard to the particular question submitted it is the opinion of the Committee that the attorney so solicited may, with propriety and preferably anonymity, answer questions and volunteer personal data in connection with the preparation of such an article, so long as he insists that the article be dignified and in good taste and, further, to be written in such a tone as not to imply to the public that it is intended to constitute advertisement for professional employment, nor elicit personal sympathy for the person, if named. Further, he should see to it, as far as possible, that the article as published, carries out his instructions. It being understood that when cooperating in the publishing of such an article that the particular attorney would be held accountable for any impropriety or violation of the Canons. He should insist upon reviewing such an article in advance of publication and not only should correct inaccuracies, but should insist upon the elimination of material not in good taste. It would be his duty to discourage the publication of such an article, withdrawing his cooperation and assent to its being published if he knew in advance that it was sensational or undignified or might be construed as advertising. The test is as stated by Mr. Drinker in his text on Legal Ethics:
"In its ultimate analysis the question like many of those involving legal ethics, is one of good faith and good taste."
It has further come to the attention of the Committee regarding certain pictures at times accompanied by articles of explanation which have been published, especially by the metropolitan newspapers, wherein attorneys have posed for pictures with clients or posed for pictures in connection with some phase of particular litigation or legal work such as displaying evidence used or to be used in litigation, handling over money in payment of judgment, etc., which pictures and/or articles, when so posed or solicited are herewith held to be in clear violation of the Canon. Opinion No. 38, OBJ March 26, 1955; Opinion No. 46 OBJ July 27, 1957.
Note: The inquiry answered by this opinion was made in 1958, and due to the exigency of the situation was answered by letter direct to the inquirer in substantially the manner set forth in the first part of above opinion. Certain members of the Committee felt, however, that any opinion released on this subject should be more comprehensive. Mr. Gus Rinehart of the 1958 Committee prepared the above opinion.