OBA Ethics Counsel
Ethics Opinion No. 206
Adopted August 11, 1960
The Executive Council has submitted to the Legal Ethics Committee the following inquiry:
In the late fall of 1959 the Executive Council submitted to the Ethics Committee an inquiry concerning the propriety of sending Christmas cards to clients and signing the firm name. At the same time members of the Bar were being widely solicited by publishing companies to order Christmas cards bearing the picture of Santa Claus with a brief case or some other picture or legend indicative of the profession. It was felt that an opinion on the subject should be withheld until after the holiday season, at which time an opinion of a more comprehensive nature could be prepared which would not infringe on the feelings of those who had unwittingly been guilty of a violation.
The distribution of Christmas or other greeting cards by a lawyer bearing the designation "attorney" or his office address or legends or illustrations referring to his professional status constitutes a violation of Canon 27, which prohibits indirect as well as direct advertising. Obviously, any type greeting card or letter distributed by a law firm would fall within this category. Both the Texas and Michigan Bar Associations have reached this conclusion on similar inquiries (Michigan Opinion Nos. 29 and 170; Texas Opinion No. 168.) The American Bar Association in Opinion No. 59 condemned the distribution of a "Year Book" which bore the name and address of the attorneys distributing the same and in Opinion No. 107 found that "Christmas Greetings" published in a local newspaper by certain attorneys designating their professional occupation constituted a violation of Canon 27.
The language of the Michigan Committee is, in our opinion, most appropriate:
"A sincere Christmas greeting is definitely a personal matter between friends. Lay business people have, upon occasion, perverted the use of Christmas greetings for advertising purposes. The dignity of the profession of the law should restrain members of the bar from following such commercial practice ...."
"In reaching its conclusion earlier stated in the present opinion, the committee does not intend to circumscribe or restrict in any manner the practice of an individual attorney sending to his personal friends and acquaintances, including clients with whom he is in close personal relationship, his own personal Christmas cards, which neither bear the designation "attorney" or his office address, nor legend or illustration referring to his professional status."