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OBA Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 68

Adopted February 23, 1934

The Board is in receipt of the following request for an opinion:

"A firm engaged in a competitive manufacturing business desires to employ an attorney on a flat salary. This attorney will handle whatever legal business the firm has. "The firm, however, desires to hold out to the public, and to make it one of their main selling points, that they employ an attorney, who, because he is an attorney, can render a service that a layman cannot, in the preparation of the product the firm sells. "It is desired among other things, to have the attorney in the role of a salesman, __solicit business from the firm's customers and prospective customers, stressing the point he is a lawyer, and that the firm makes no extra charge for his legal knowledge or services.

"Can a lawyer ethically accept employment under the above conditions?"

The principles involved have been fully discussed in the following advisory opinions of the Board of Governors:

No. 1, Vol. 25, State Bar Reports, page 161;

No. 31, Vol. 26, State Bar Reports, page 203;

No. 49, March 1933, State Bar Journal, and

No. 64, December 1933, State Bar Journal.

In Advisory Opinion No. 1 it was said in effect, that it was improper for a member of the bar to allow his services to be sold or dealt in by any layman or lay agency, and that

"It must therefore be held that the furnishing, selling or exploiting of the legal services of members of the Bar is derogatory to the dignity and self respect of the profession, tends to lower the standards of professional character and conduct and thus lessen the usefulness of the profession to the public; and that a lawyer who cooperates with, or makes it possible for, others to commercialize the profession and to bring it into disrepute by allowing his services to be exploited, or dealt in like merchandise, is guilty of conduct unbecoming a member of the State Bar of Oklahoma."

In the opinion of the Board it is proper for the member of the Bar to accept the employment to handle the firm's legal business; but that the member of the Bar cannot, with propriety allow his professional services to be exploited by the lay agency as a part of its selling campaign, such as to revise or change manuscripts of briefs in lawsuits submitted for printing, this being in violation of Rule 37 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.