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OBA Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 261

Adopted March 19, 1971

Syllabus 1. A listing of the office of a lawyer or law firm in the alphabetical and classified sections of the telephone directory or directories for the geographical area or areas in which he resides or maintains a bona fide office is not ethically improper.

Syllabus 2. Such listing may state only the name of the lawyer or law firm, the fact that he is a lawyer, his address and telephone number. A listing which is distinctive in form or type violates the Code of Professional Responsibility.

INQUIRY

The announced plans of Southwestern Bell Telephone Company to institute in the near future a "Wide-Area Calling Plan" which will permit toll-free calls in a 1,260 square mile area surrounding Oklahoma City, and to publish in connection therewith a telephone directory listing all of the telephone subscribers in that area has prompted inquiries by attorneys within the affected area. The Board of Governors has requested a reevaluation of this Committee's Opinion 255 dated August 22, 1968, which sets forth certain requirements and limitations as to telephone listings by attorneys.

OPINION

The Committee has re-studied Opinion No. 255 in light of the Code of Professional Responsibility adopted by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma effective January 1, 1970, Supreme Court Orders SCBD 2212 and 2213 (see 40 O.B.A.J. 2744, 2745).

The Code of Professional Responsibility provides, in pertinent part:

Canon 2, EC2-9:

"The traditional ban against advertising by lawyers, which is subject to certain limited exceptions, is rooted in the public interest. Competitive advertising would encourage extravagant, artful, self-laudatory brashness in seeking business and thus could mislead the layman. Furthermore, it would inevitably produce unrealistic expectations in particular cases and bring about distrust of the law and lawyers. Thus, public confidence in our legal system would be impaired by such advertisements of professional services. The attorney-client relationship is personal and unique and should not be established as the result of pressures and deceptions. History has demonstrated that public confidence in the legal system is best preserved by strict, self-imposed controls over, rather than by unlimited, advertising."

Canon 2, EC2-10:

"Methods of advertising that are subject to the objections stated above should be and are prohibited. However, the Disciplinary Rules recognize the value of giving assistance in the selection process through forms of advertising that furnish identification of a lawyer while avoiding such objections. For example, a lawyer may be identified in the classified section of the telephone directory, in the office building directory and on his letterhead and professional card. But at all times the permitted notices should be dignified and accurate.

"(A) A lawyer or law firm shall not use ... telephone directory listings ... except that the following may be used if they are in dignified form:

...

"(5) A listing of the office of a lawyer or law firm in the alphabetical and classified sections of the telephone directory or directories for the geographical area or areas in which the lawyer resides or maintains offices or in which a significant part of his clientele resides and in the city directory of the city in which his or the firm's office is located; but the listing may give only the name of the lawyer or law firm, the fact he is a lawyer, addresses, and telephone numbers. The listing shall not be in distinctive form or type. A law firm may have a listing in the firm name separate from that of its members and associates. The listing in the classified section shall not be under a heading or classification other than 'Attorneys' or 'Lawyers,' except that additional headings or classifications descriptive of the types of practice referred to in DR 2-105 are permitted."

The Code of Professional Responsibility, the former Canons of Ethics, and the previous opinions of this Committee dealing with attorneys' telephone listings (Opinion No. 180, approved March 9, 1955; Opinion No. 202, approved November 2, 1959; Opinion No. 233, approved November 11, 1965; and Opinion No. 255, approved August 22, 1968) are each intended to prohibit a lawyer from using a telephone directory as a means of advertising himself or the fact that he is a lawyer, and from solicitation. The Code, the Canons and the previous Opinions, therefore, proscribe any listings which are calculated to attract attention to the listing of a lawyer or firm, are distinctive or unusual, and those which are placed in directories covering areas in which the attorney neither resides nor practices.

The Committee is informed that the proposed area-wide directory will be a single large volume containing the alphabetical and classified listings of all subscribers in the area, without division or segmentation as to cities or communities covered; and that it is anticipated that separate directories for some of the cities or towns will continue to be published although subscribers in those cities and towns will also be listed, as above stated, in the larger area directory.

Because of the importance of the question and the time element involved, the Committee expresses the opinions herein on the assumption that the area-wide directory, when published, will be in substantially the form here indicated.

With these considerations in mind, the Committee holds that a listing as an attorney or lawyer in the alphabetical or classified section of such an area-wide directory when published by the telephone company will not be unethical as to any attorney maintaining a bona fide office or residence within the area covered by the directory. The Committee is of the opinion that the fact that modern technology now permits an expanded ability for toll-free communication between attorney and client should not work to the detriment of the attorney but should redound to his benefit.

The Committee notes that in Legal Ethics Opinion No. 233, approved November 11, 1965, it was held to be improper for an attorney or firm to be listed 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 term "exchange area" has caused confusion in the metropolitan areas where many "exchanges" have been in use in an integrated toll-free area of telephone service.

The Committee holds that in view of the expanding availability of toll-free service between communities, the words "exchange area" are no longer a suitable standard by which the ethical propriety of a telephone listing should be judged.

We emphasize and reaffirm that the names of attorneys in a firm may not be listed after the name of the firm, that unusual or bold face type may not be used and that unusual addresses which are unnecessary and which materially increase the number of lines of the listing are not to be used. We reaffirm that the listing of home telephone numbers of lawyers who practice in the area is consistent with professional dignity and good taste, but that the home number of any member of a firm should appear under his individual alphabetical listing instead of under the firm name. Listing of firms which indicate numbers to be called at night, and on Sundays or holidays continue to be prohibited as are listings either for individual attorneys or for firms which indicate an alternate number to be called if there is "no answer".

In summary, we reaffirm our previous opinions with respect to the style, content or appearance of telephone listings.