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OBA Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 96

Adopted November 22, 1935

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

Rule 45 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, as amended to become effective July 1, 1936, provides:

"A lawyer may insert his professional card and that of his lawyer associates in a reputable law directory or reputable law list. The card with propriety may contain only a statement of his and their names, addresses, telephone numbers, cable addresses, special branches of the profession practiced, dates and places of birth, dates and places of admission to the Bar, the school attended, the dates of graduation and the degrees received, the bar associations of which the subscriber and his associates are members and other appropriate biographical information. The card may also give references or names of clients for whom the lawyer and his associates are counsel with their permission in writing filed with the publisher. A 'law directory' as used herein is a publication containing a roll of all lawyers engaged in the practice which the directory purports to cover. A 'law list' as used herein is a publication containing a selected list of lawyers engaged in a particular line of practice or in the general practice. A publication, the prime purpose of which is not the listing of lawyers, or which contains a roll of lawyers as an adjunct to other matter not addressed to the profession, is not within the term "reputable law directory" or the term "reputable law list". Law lists and law directories may be maintained as instrumentalities of the subscriber lawyers for the purpose of affording media of contact between lawyers. A reputable law directory or reputable law list is a publication which, as the instrumentality of its subscribers serves the profession with fidelity and does nothing to cause its subscribers to be guilty directly or indirectly of any professional misconduct. A publication the circulation of which is not confined to members of the profession is not within the term "reputable law directory" or the term "reputable law list". A publication which guarantees to its users the fidelity of its listees through bond, guaranty, or any other similar means is not a reputable law directory or reputable law list."

In order that the members of the State Bar may be advised, and govern themselves accordingly, please express the views of the Board upon the following:

"(1) What constitutes a 'reputable law list'?

(2) As to the propriety of publishing biographical matter in connection with the card permitted to be published; and

(3) Should the law list publishing a lawyer's card, containing references or a list of clients, require such lawyer to submit the written consent of such references or clients to it before publication?"

In response:

1. The term "law lists" as used in rule 45 includes publications commonly known by members of the bar as "law lists" and "law directories."

A "law list", as commonly known, is a publication containing a selected list of lawyers engaged in a particular line of practice or in the general practice. A "law directory", as commonly known is a publication containing a roll of all lawyers engaged in the practice the directory purports to cover.

A publication containing a roll of lawyers as an adjunct to another matter, not addressed to the profession, is not within the term "reputable law list" as used in Rule 45.

A publication, the prime purpose of which is not the listing of members of the bar is not within the term "law list" as used in Rule 45.

Law lists are supported by subscriptions paid by members of the bar for the insertion of their names. Being so supported, law lists are maintained as the instrumentalities of the subscribers for the purpose of affording media of contact between members of the bar.

Consequently, a "reputable law list" is a law list which as the instrumentality of its subscribers, serves the profession with fidelity and does nothing to cause its subscribers to be guilty directly or indirectly of any professional misconduct.

Whether a particular law list is "reputable" within the meaning of Rule 45 depends upon the application of the principles herein declared to the particular practice of the list.

2. Rule 45, as amended, permits the insertion of a professional card only in "reputable law lists" and prescribes the matters which may be contained therein, leaving no discretion. It states that the card may contain only:

(a) a statement of the name of the subscriber, and those of his lawyer associates.

(b) the subscriber's and his associates' addresses, including telephone number and cable address.

(c) branch of profession practiced.

(d) place and date of birth.

(e) place and dates of admission to the bar.

(f) educational qualifications (including pre-legal, naming school or schools), law school attended, the date of graduation therefrom and degrees received.

(g) the bar associations of which the subscriber and his associates are members, which shall include only bar associations the entire membership of which is limited to lawyers.

(h) other appropriate biographical information.

(i) references or names of clients for whom the lawyer and his associates are counsel with their permission in writing filed with the publisher.

3. Reputable law lists as above defined, will be held strictly to an observance of Rule 45. It must require members of the bar giving references or naming clients to submit written consent thereof before publication. This will prevent mistakes, double listings, and provide the lists with a written record of its conduct in this respect.