OPINION 489
December 1992

Question Presented

May a law firm develop, sponsor and conduct a seminar for the benefit of a specific segment of the lay public?

Facts

A law firm wishes to sponsor and conduct a seminar regarding recent developments under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act and its application to realtors. The seminar will be targeted specifically at realtors doing business primarily in one city. The law firm intends to send fliers detailing the time, place, cost and subject of the seminar to individual realtors and agencies operating in that city. The fliers will display the name of the law firm, its address and telephone number, and a brief factual description of the qualifications of the two attorneys who will conduct the seminar. The flier will not contain any language which suggests, expresses, or implies that the recipients contact the law firm for any purpose other than for seminar enrollment.

The seminar’s charge will cover the expense of providing a lunch, refreshments, rental facility and printing costs for seminar handouts. The seminar will run for approximately four hours.

Handouts distributed at the seminar will contain no language, express or implied, which suggests that the participants should seek the counsel of the law firm. The materials will contain a cover page and an introductory section consisting of the information displayed in the original flier and an outline highlighting the main points raised in the presentation.

Questions will be taken, but only those of general nature will be answered. No individually specific questions will be addressed. At no time will it be suggested, expressed or implied that individuals attending the seminar should consult the law firm if they have any individually specific questions.

The law firm will not in any way, express or implied, solicit business from seminar participants.

Questions

  1. Does a law firm's sponsorship of such a seminar violate any Disciplinary Rule if the law firm and lawyers conducting the seminar comply with the requirements of DRs 7.01DR 7.02DR 7.03 and DR 7.04?
  2. In sponsoring such a seminar, must a law firm and the lawyers conducting the seminar comply with all of the guidelines set out in Opinion 394 (April, 1979, Texas Bar Journal)?

Discussion

Ethics Opinion 394 addressed the question of general guidelines applicable to participation by lawyers in legal education seminars and programs and relied on ABA Committee on Professional Ethics, Formal Opinion 840 (1965), which approved a number of general guidelines then applicable to lawyer participation in such programs. Opinion 394 was based on EC 2-2DR 2-101 and DR 2-105 then in force, and would prohibit a seminar sponsored by a single lawyer or a law firm.

Substantial changes in ethical considerations and disciplinary rules were made by the adoption of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct that became effective Jan. 1, 1990. The subject of providing information about legal services is now covered by DRs 7.01 through DR 7.04. Nothing in the new disciplinary rules expressly prohibits conduct of a seminar for laymen by a lawyer or a law firm.

Some of the requirements set out in Opinion 394 are no longer applicable, under the current disciplinary rules, but the following guidelines are still appropriate:

  1. It is proper for a lawyer to participate in a legitimate seminar on a legal subject so long as the lawyer is competent on the subject, and the seminar is organized and conducted in a professional manner.
  2. The seminar must have as its purpose the imparting of information to the participants, that is, its purpose must be education in nature. It is improper for a lawyer to participate in a seminar if its main purpose is to publicize or make money for its sponsors, the lawyer, or others.
  3. The sponsoring entity (which may be a law firm) must be disclosed in advertisements or other media by which the seminar is publicized.
  4. Seminar participants may consist of lawyers or laymen or both. Those attending the seminar may consist of lawyers or laymen or both.
  5. A lawyer may be paid for his or her participation in the seminar.
  6. The sponsor announcement and other written materials may list the name of a lawyer participant with a short factual and dignified statement of his or her qualifications.
  7. It is improper for an attorney to answer questions of laymen concerning their specific individual problems.
  8. All requirements of DRs 7.01 through 7.04 (as well as all other disciplinary rules) must be complied with.

Conclusion

No disciplinary rule would be violated by sponsorship of the seminar if all disciplinary rules are complied with by the law firm and lawyers conducting the seminar.