OPINION 346
June, 1969

GROUP LEGAL SERVICES — SOLICITATION INTERMEDIATORS—UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE OF LAW. An attorney may not knowingly allow on association or group to advertise to the members of the association or group that the attorney is competent and qualified and will advise them on their personal legal problems, which problems do not have any relation to the work, occupation or profession of the members of the association or group.

Canons 24, 32, 43.

Question

May an attorney knowingly allow an association or group to publish a bulletin to its members stating the name, address and telephone number of the attorney, and stating that he is available to all members to represent them in their personal matters, including wills, estates, contracts, business matters, domestic relations matters, real and personal property transactions, and other personal matters, with the bulletin further stating that each member of the association must pay his own legal fees, but the association will represent any of its members, through its legal counsel, without charge, for all matters involved in disciplinary suspension or other administrative proceedings concerning the employment of the member?

Opinion

The propriety of group legal services has recently become a subject of much discussion. 55 American Bar Association Journal 420 (May, 1969); 55 American Bar Association Journal 534 (June, 1969). At least two cases have been presented to the United States Supreme Court, raising the question of whether or not certain persons could be enjoined from alleged solicitation of legal business and unauthorized practice of law. United Mine Workers of America v. Illinois State Bar Association, 389 U.S. 217 (1967); Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen v. Virginia, 377 U.S. 1 (1964). See also NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415(1963).

The Committee on Professional Ethics is not concerned with the conduct of the association or group. It is not within the province of this Committee to determine the propriety of the conduct of an association or group of people not members of the State Bar of Texas. The Committee is concerned only with the conduct of the attorney. Our guide for such determination is the existing Canons of Ethics and the prior Opinions construing these Canons.

Not only does the conduct in question constitute solicitation in violation of Canon 34, but also it violates Canon 32 which allows a member to accept employment from an organization to render legal services in any matter in which the organization, as an entity, is interested, but precludes employment which includes "the rendering of legal services to the members of such organization in respect to their individual affairs." (Emphasis added.)

The Committee further feels that the conduct in question goes beyond that presented to the United States Supreme Court in the cases cited above. In each of the above cases, the legal services provided pertained to occupation or employment of the members, or to a particular cause common to the objectives of the association. Also, the Supreme Court did not face the question of whether or not a Bar Association may take action against an attorney for violation of the Canons of Ethics, as distinguished from certain legal controls that may be imposed on an association or group.

To condone the conduct above would be tantamount to condoning the action of an attorney who allows any organization, such as an ex-students' association, to circulate his name as being a competent attorney to represent all ex-students in any legal matters. To allow this would be to open a door to solicitation and would relegate the practice of law to the position of a business rather than a profession.

Without a prior Opinion by the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, we do not here decide whether the conduct in question constitutes aiding of unauthorized practice of law in violation of Canon 43.