ADVERTISING AND SELF-LAUDATIONLETTERS TO NEWSPAPERIDENTIFICATION OF THE WRITER AS A LAWYERWhen writing a letter to a newspaper for publication, a lawyer generally should refrain from identifying himself as a lawyer, and to identify himself as a lawyer is unethical if his purpose is to engage in indirect advertising and self-laudation.
Canons 17, 24.
A.B.A. informal opinion 473 stated, "There is nothing improper in a lawyer writing a letter to a newspaper on a subject of general interest if he does not mention the fact that he is an attorney and there is nothing in the letter to identify him as such, and the letter does not concern a litigated matter in which he represented one of the parties." 49 A.B.A. Journal 462 (May, 1963). This seems to imply there would be something improper if he did mention the fact that he is an attorney or if there was something in the letter as an attorney. There are many matters of general interest and of vital importance to our communities, states and nations upon which only a lawyer, generally speaking, is qualified to comment. If a lawyer is allowed to identify himself as such his opinion will undoubtedly carry more authority and identify his special expertise in the field upon which he writes. Also, the best and most logical way for his views to reach the greatest percentage of the public is by way of a newspaper. The implication of this A.B.A. informal opinion, if given effect, would go a long way to destroying the lawyers position as a leader in shaping the opinions of the general public. Lawyers are often asked to defend the courts and to explain the law to the general public so that the rule of law might prevail. Is this implication a correct view of the lawyers professional responsibility in Texas?
A.B.A. informal opinion 473 is correct in its express holding. Canon 37 permits a lawyer to write an article on the law for newspaper publication, and the purport of Canon 37 is that writing a letter, relating to law, to the editor for publication is not improper. But by reason of Canon 17, the writing of the letter seldom can be ethical if it concerns litigation with which the writer was connected. By reason of Canon 24, the writing of the letter is unethical is unethical if it identifies the writer as an attorney under circumstances where the writing of the letter constitutes an indirect advertisement or self-laudation of the writer as an attorney.
This committee feels that A.B.A. informal opinion 473 does not imply that it is always or necessarily unethical for a lawyer in writing a letter to a newspaper to identify himself as a lawyer. It also feels that usually it is unnecessary for the writer to identify himself as a lawyer, and an unnecessary identification of himself as a lawyer is evidence of an intent to advertise or to engage in self-laudation in violation of Canon 24. The lawyer who wishes to defend a court publicly or to explain some controversial point of law or of constitutional interpretation can do so effectively and best by the logic and the clarity of his presentation, and he seldom should need to rely upon the implicit argument that his position is sound because it is a position taken by a lawyer.
A lawyer certainly has a responsibility to the public, simply because he is a lawyer, to assert leadership in matters of public interest where leadership can best come from one with the legal training of a lawyer. He should not, however, under the guise of asserting helpful public leadership seek self-advertisement and self-laudation of himself as a lawyer. In every instance, there is a fact question whether his identification as a lawyer in a letter to the newspaper is conduct prohibited by Canon 24. (9-0)