May an attorney or law firm employ a public relations agency for a predetermined monthly fee to provide information to press, radio, and television representatives about high-profile cases and the availability of law firm members as news sources on specific areas of law, with the purposes of the attorney or law firm being to create publicity for the law firm and the cases it is handling and the implied purpose being the obtaining of new clients?
Hiring a public relations agency, in the limited context described in the question presented, is not on its face, inherently deceptive or misleading.
DR 2-101(A) provides that "(a) lawyer shall not make, on behalf of himself, his partner, associate, or any other lawyer, any false or misleading communication, about the lawyer or the lawyer's services." This prohibition applies not only to the acts of the lawyer personally, but also to the acts of the lawyer through anyone employed by the lawyer to communicate with the public on his behalf insofar as the disciplinary rules, including those specifically dealing with publicity and advertising, will govern any communications, whether made by the lawyer himself or by someone else at his request. See DR 1-102(A)(2). Obviously the possibility for misleading the public is increased when the dissemination of information is delegated to non-lawyers. EC 3-6 provides for the delegation of certain tasks to lay persons, if the attorney supervises and has complete professional responsibility for the work product. The attorney must bear the ultimate responsibility for the communications made on his behalf by the public relations agency.
DR 2-101(D) prohibits the giving of compensation to representatives of the press, radio, television or other communication media in anticipation of or in return for publicity in a news item. The agent of the lawyer or the agency, therefore, also is prohibited from giving compensation to the press, radio, television or other communication media.
DR 2-101(D) does not prohibit the payment of the cost of lawyer advertising. A monthly fee to the public relations agency would not be prohibited as long as the fee is not based on client referral or case recovery.
For the reasons stated above, and in the narrow context described, the question presented is answered in the affirmative.