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OBA Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 255

Adopted August 22, 1968

INQUIRY

This Committee has been asked to review its former opinions upon telephone directory listings of attorneys and, in addition thereto, to answer the following questions:

1. Whether or not alternate listings for an attorney might be used.

2. Whether or not names of all attorneys in the firm might be listed after the name of the firm.

3. Whether or not unusual or bold face type may be used and whether or not unusual addresses which increase the number of the lines of the listing could be used.

OPINION

Oklahoma Legal Ethics Opinion No. 180 approved March 9, 1955 held:

"The listing of names of attorneys in the classified portion of a telephone directory is not advertising forbidden by the Canons of Professional Ethics where the publicity accorded each attorney is the same, and there can be no undue advantage because it is of benefit to the public who is entitled to information regarding the names and addresses of lawyers. However, where the lawyer seeks some distinctive method of self classification which is different from the general informative listings of his fellow lawyers, it becomes improper advertising or solicitation and offends Canon 27."

Oklahoma Legal Ethics Opinion No. 202 approved November 2, 1959, held that an attorney residing in one community who maintained an office in a separate community could have a general telephone listing in the community of his residence and a general listing in the community of his office even though they were separate communities, but that it would be improper for him to be listed in the classified section of the community in which he resided or to have his residence number shown in the classified section of the directory of the community in which his office was located.

Oklahoma Legal Ethics Opinion No. 233 approved November 11, 1965, held that it was proper for a lawyer or firm to list his or their names in a classified section of a telephone directory as long as the listing is no different from the manner and method adopted by all other lawyers in the exchange area, but that it was improper for such attorney or firm to list their names in the classified section of a telephone directory covering an exchange area in which he or they do not reside or maintain an office. The Committee did in this opinion hold that an attorney could list himself individually in the regular or alphabetical section of the telephone directory covering an area in which he does not reside or maintain an office, but partnerships and firms could not be so listed.

We reaffirm Opinion No. 233 in its entirety and hereby overrule any portions of the former opinions which conflict therewith.

In answer to Question 1, it is the opinion of this Committee that it is improper for law firms to list alternate listings for individual members or for the firm. We further hold that the names of attorneys in a firm may not be listed after the name of the firm as individuals in a telephone directory, and we reaffirm our position that unusual or bold face type may not be used, and upon the same reasoning we hold that unusual addresses which are unnecessary and which materially increase the number of lines of the listing cannot be used.

The Canons of Professional Ethics must be adaptable to the times in which we live and our Committee's interpretations must recognize modern methods and procedures. If, as has been stated many times, we must balance the public interest against the incidental publicity accorded the individual lawyer, we find that the listing of home telephone numbers of lawyers who practice in the area is consistent with professional dignity and good taste. It is our opinion, however, that the home number of any member of the firm should appear under his individual alphabetical listing instead of under the firm name. As previously stated, we believe under the firm name there should be no indication of what number to call on nights, Sundays and holidays. There should be no listing of number to be called if no answer, either by firms or individuals.

Of course, individual lawyers not connected with any firm may likewises [sic] include their residence telephone number in the alphabetical section if they wish their clients to know where to reach them after office hours. The listing should not state that the residence number is for use only on nights, Sundays and holidays.

We further believe that any unnecessary and unusual addresses which are listed by attorneys merely for the purpose of increasing the number of lines in the telephone directory, thereby calling attention to the firm or individual attorney, approaches commercialism and merely serves to call attention to the name, thereby violating Canon 27.

In listing addresses, either the name of the building or the street address may be used, but not both, and surplus wordage [sic], such as "located," is improper.

We adhere to the guiding factor in Opinion No. 180 which permitted the use of the classified directory by attorneys and in which we stated that a lawyer who seeks to insert his name in a telephone directory in an unusual manner, having as its purpose to call attention to him or his firm individually, is in violation of Canon 27 and is subject to discipline. This guiding principal has been adhered to throughout all of the opinions of this Committee, and we hold again in answer to the request above that the use of bold face type in a classified listing composed solely of other lawyers indicates a studied purpose to single oneself for special notice over and above his fellow lawyers. Also, adding to the regular classified listing a second line, either from the use of an unnecessarily long address or by adding the names of each member of the firm under the firm's name, demonstrates to us a desire to press for public attention in an attempt to become unduly distinctive. Selecting any listing different from the listing under which the rest of the lawyers appear is a clear attempt to segregate oneself for special attention and is in violation of the letter and spirit of Canon 27.

Again, we summarize that in all the situations set out above we believe the lawyer would subject himself to the charge of gaining undue publicity for private advantage instead of simply allowing his name to appear along with other lawyers together with his simple address under general listings for the benefit of the public. This principle is applicable to both the classified section and the alphabetical section.

We spell out that professional listings should appear in simple ordinary type before the office address which should not be unnecessarily long and, if a lawyer so desires, the word "residence" together with the residence phone number may be inserted under his professional listing. It is the opinion of this Committee that each attorney or firm should be limited to one professional phone for the office and one residence phone for each attorney. The words "Sundays, nights and holidays"; "if no answer call"; "week ends call"; and any other language except that set out above is in the opinion of this Committee unethical.

Again, we repeat, the telephone directory is to enable users of the telephone to ascertain telephone numbers. It is not a law list. The telephone number of the firm and the telephone numbers of the individual lawyers connected with the firm, will be listed in the alphabetical section after their respective names. There is no public interest from the standpoint of telephone usage to be served by listing the names of the lawyers connected with the firm after the firm name. Such information is properly obtained from a law list or from personal contact with or inquiry of the firm.