OBA Ethics Counsel
Ethics Opinion No. 89
Adopted July 26, 1935
The Board is in receipt of the following inquiry:
"In an effort to increase my income I have decided to do some extra work, provided the same is not in the opinion of the Board improper. I will appreciate your opinion. I have prepared form letters, and form authorizations, copies of both of which are enclosed. They are self-explanatory, and I want to know if there would be any objection from the State Bar to me mailing these out, and obtaining as many tax payers to represent as possible. I might say that my attention to this source of extra revenue was attracted by several persons, none of whom are attorneys, doing this and making considerable money out of it. You will notice I do not use my letterheads on my form letter, nor do I in any place use the name attorney. You will also notice that I especially tell the prospective employer that there is no law practice involved. I have been as careful as possible not to solicit business as an attorney, but do not want to be criticized nor accused of being unethical, so will appreciate an opinion from you on this matter."
The form letter and form authorization is as follows:
As this letter calls to your attention the fact that from time to time you will be entitled to some money, I hope that you will take time to read it.
Each year there is usually filed by some interested tax-payer protest on some one or more levies in this County. Some of these protests are usually sustained, and others over-ruled. Where the Court of Tax Reviews sustains a protest there becomes subject to refund the tax money for that levy that has been collected. Usually these refunds are small, for the average tax-payer seldom exceeding one dollar and for that reason are overlooked by the taxpayer. As a tax payer you will be entitled to these refunds from time to time as these protests are sustained.
After a protest has been sustained, and the levies become subject to refund, there is no law practice involved, and you, or any other tax-payer entitled to a refund can obtain it without employing anyone to help them. Regardless of this fact, however, the majority of those entitled to refunds who have been taking advantage of this law, have been employing some one to do this for them. These claims must be filed within a certain time, verified according to the requirements of the statutes, etc., so the tax payer usually finds it is cheaper for him to employ someone familiar with the procedure to do this than to do it himself.
The writer of this letter has been handling refund applications for hundreds of tax payers for the past few years, and would be glad to care for this business for you if you do not intend to handle it yourself. Enclosed is a stamped addressed, post card authorization which you can sign and mail if you care to have your refunds protected. Nothing else is needed, and you will not become liable for one cent of costs or expenses other than the fee set out. You will also notice that you can cancel this authorization at any time (pending work would of course be completed), by simply mailing a notice that you did not want me to represent you longer.
Hoping that I receive your authorization within a short time, and assuring you that I will appreciate this business, I remain,
Yours very truly,
Until otherwise notified in writing, you are hereby authorized to represent the undersigned in checking tax levies, and obtaining refunds from the County Treasurer. You check the records, prepare and file all claims, etc., secure the refund, retain one-half for your services and expense, and remit the balance to the undersigned.
The Board is of the opinion that the procedure suggested constitutes the solicitation of law practice and is prohibited by Rule 29 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. It makes no difference that the member of the bar, upon his letter of solicitation, does not indicate that he is authorized to practice law.