OBA Ethics Counsel
Ethics Opinion No. 242
Adopted June 25, 1966
The Committee has been asked whether a lawyer or lawyers may ethically serve, without compensation, on a panel sponsored by a Church for the purpose of consulting with members of the Church on individual legal problems. It is stated that the lawyers, all members of the Church, would be available at times scheduled by the Church for such consultations but that the lawyers would do nothing beyond "consulting", contemplating that if a person's legal problem required "action beyond consulting" he would be advised to go to a lawyer "selected by such Church member." We are also asked whether the answer to the question would be affected by whether the lawyer serving on the panel is employed full time in a corporate legal department rather than being engaged in private practice.
The Canons which are principally controlling are 35 and 47.
Canon 35 reads as follows:
"Intermediaries--The professional services of a lawyer should not be controlled or exploited by any lay agency, personal or corporate, which intervenes between client and lawyer. A lawyer's responsibilities and qualifications are individual. He should avoid all relations which direct the performance of his duties by or in the interest of such intermediary. A lawyer's relation to his client should be personal, and the responsibility should be direct to the client. Charitable societies rendering aid to the indigents are not deemed such intermediaries.
"A lawyer may accept employment from any organization, such as an association, club or trade organization, to render legal services in any matter in which the organization, as an entity, is interested, but this employment should not include the rendering of legal services to the members of such an organization in respect to their individual affairs."
Canon 47 reads as follows:
"Aiding the Unauthorized Practice of Law--No lawyer shall permit his professional services, or his name, to be used in aid of, or to make possible, the unauthorized practice of law by any lay agency, personal or corporate."
In the opinion of the Committee, it would be improper for a lawyer to serve on such a panel because the arrangement contemplates the control or exploitation of the lawyer's services by a lay agency. The Committee holds that "consultation" with members of the Church regarding their individual legal problems is the practice of law. The fact that the lawyer--panel member would do no more than "consult" with a person regarding such person's legal problems and would not be compensated, does not militate against our conclusion that the arrangement contemplated is one in which lay intermediary intervenes between lawyer and client. It would constitute the affording of legal service by a lawyer not necessarily of the client's choice, and would create a relationship lacking in the personal element of responsibility required.
The participation of a lawyer in such a program would amount to permitting the use of his professional services as well as his name in aid of the unauthorized practice of law by a lay agency.
Canon 27 prohibits solicitation of professional employment through "interviews not warranted by personal relations." If direct legal advice is given, even though no charge is made, the lawyer would be acting in violation of Canon 27. Informal Decision No. 503, American Bar Association Standing Committee on Professional Ethics.
Moreover, the arrangement savors somewhat of a lawyer referral service and this Committee has previously held that a lawyer referral service may be operated and maintained only by a bar association in accordance with very strict standards. See Oklahoma Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee Advisory Opinion No. 230.
While the proposed program is undoubtedly motivated by well intentioned desires of the Church toward its congregation, it would be professionally improper for a lawyer to participate in it. Opinion 56, American Bar Association Standing Committee on Professional Ethics; Informal Decision No. C 687, American Bar Association Standing Committee on Professional Ethics.
The result would be the same irrespective of whether the lawyer is otherwise employed by a corporate legal department or is engaged in private practice. The Canons of Professional Ethics are applicable to all members of the Bar.