Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 12

Adopted November 20, 1931

The Board of Governors is in receipt of the following communication:

“A matter has come to my attention upon which I think I have a duty as a member of the bar to register a complaint with the Board of Governors.

A short time ago, I heard one ………… (a member of the bar who happens to be an assistant county attorney) answering legal inquiries over Radio Station …………. These inquiries were undoubtedly made in the form of letters addressed to the station and referred to his attention for answer.

I glanced over the Rules of Professional Conduct and it seems that the conduct of this individual is in violation of rule No. 37 and also rule No. 42. Rule 42 seems to apply to broadcasting information through the medium of newspapers. The instrumentality employed in the instant case happens to be the radio and although that particular method of disseminating information is not covered by the rule, nevertheless I think the practice is in violation of the spirit of the rule.

As you know I am not engaged in the general practice of law. I make this complaint because I feel it is my duty to call the situation to the attention of the Board of Governors. I wish, therefore, you would have this matter referred to the proper committee which handles these matters, in order that an investigation may be made. I do not know that any rules of conduct are actually being violated but the circumstances on their face have a suspicious appearance.”

The Board of Governors is of the opinion that if the responses to the inquiries purport to advise the inquirers in respect to their individual rights the conduct of the attorney referred to is in violation of the spirit of Rule 42 of the Rules of Professional Conduct which provides:

“A lawyer may with propriety write articles for publication in which he gives information upon the law; but he should not accept employment from such publications to advise inquirers in respect to their individual rights.”

and this is true without reference to whether or not the attorney receives compensation from the radio station.

It is the opinion of the Board of Governors that the attorney in question should desist from a course of conduct inconsistent with this opinion, with the observation that if the advice in respect to the individual rights of the inquirers is given as a matter of charity, such advice be given in a private manner.

It is not to be understood by the foregoing that a lawyer may not with propriety deliver addresses over the radio in which he discusses legal subjects in the abstract, or gives information to the public in general upon a legal subject as a matter of public interest.