OPINION 383
July 1975

ATTORNEY'S USE OF OFFICE SIGNS OR PLACARDS STATING NATURE OF HIS PRACTICE An attorney's use of small signs or placards in his office or waiting room informing the reader of the types of cases he handles constitutes unethical solicitation.

Code of Professional Responsibility: DR 2-102 (A); DR 2-103 (A); and DR 2-104 (A).

Question

Is it unethical for an attorney to place small signs or placards in his office or waiting room advising the reader of various types of cases and matters which he handles?

Opinion

The particular inquiry made of this committee states that by the use of the small signs or placards in the attorney's office he would be informing "his present clients" that he handles various types of cases and legal matters. However, the committee sees no way for a sign in a lawyer's office or waiting room to exercise the discretion necessary in determining whether the information reaches only "his present clients." For purposes of this opinion, therefore, it is assumed that such signs would be available to anyone who might be found in a lawyer's office or waiting room, whether they are his present clients or not.

Specific examples of the kind of information sought to convey by such small signs or placards is that the lawyer in question handles criminal cases, divorces, child custody cases, personal injury cases, draws wills, etc.

DR 2-102(A) states as follows:

"A lawyer shall not use . . . office signs . . . except that the following may be used if they are in dignified form: . . . (3) A sign on or near the door of the office and in the building directory identifying the law office. The sign shall not state the nature of the practice, except as permitted under DR 2-105." (Emphasis ours)

The exception provided by DR 2-105 deals with certain authorized specialties and is not material here.

DR 2-103 (A) provides as follows:

"A lawyer shall not recommend employment, as a private practitioner, of himself, his partner, or associate to a non-lawyer who has not sought his advice regarding employment of a lawyer."

DR 2-104 (A) provides as follows:

"A lawyer who has given unsolicited advice to a layman that he should obtain counsel or take legal action shall not accept employment resulting from that advice, except that:

(1) A lawyer may accept employment by a close friend, relative, former client (if the advice is germane to the former employment), or one whom the lawyer reasonably believes to be a client." (Emphasis ours)

It is true, as pointed out in the letter brief furnished this committee, that Ethical Consideration 2-1 points out the need of members of the public to recognize their legal problems, appreciate the importance of seeking assistance and to be able to obtain the services of acceptable legal counsel. Lawyers are charged with the responsibility of helping to educate laymen to recognize their problems, to facilitate the process of intelligent selection of lawyers, and to assist in making legal services fully available. However, this ethical consideration is not in derogation of the disciplinary rules but is intended as an ethical guideline in following those rules. These rules have been promulgated in an attempt to reach a balance between the needs of the public referred to by Ethical Consideration 2-1 and the equally important but sometimes conflicting need for the public to be protected against unethical solicitation practices. There is no doubt that the winds of change spawned by our modern, complex society have effected and will continue to effect changes in the disciplinary rules in this area of the Code. Such relatively new institutions as Legal Aid Services, Lawyer Referral Services, Group Prepaid Legal Services, and Legal Specialization have and will require adjustments in the traditional concepts guiding the conduct of lawyers through this ethical thicket. However, these changes have been and are being made to meet the public's need, and not to obtain publicity or employment for particular lawyers. See EC 2-2.

As pointed out previously, DR 2-104 (A) provides that a lawyer who has given unsolicited advice should not accept employment resulting from that advice except under certain circumstances there stated, one of which is when the lawyer reasonably believes the person to whom such unsolicited advice has been given is a client of his. Clearly a lawyer should not hesitate to give advice to a regular client, even though unsolicited, if he honestly and reasonably believes the client has need for such advice. Further it will be noted that the Code does not prohibit the giving of unsolicited advice even to those who are not clients, close friends or relatives. It just prohibits the lawyer from accepting employment resulting from that advice.

No matter how important the function of the legal profession to help educate laymen in recognition of their problems and in the process of intelligent selection of lawyers may be, that function can and must be undertaken within the guidelines of the disciplinary rules of the Code. Further, the procedure proposed by the inquiry before this committee does not seem particularly helpful in meeting the public need recognized by EC 2-1, EC 2-2 and others. It seems more likely calculated to obtain publicity or employment for the particular lawyers involved rather than to benefit the public.

In conclusion, we hold it to be unethical solicitation for an attorney by the use of small signs or placards, in his office or elsewhere, to advise the public of the nature of his practice.