Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 153

Adopted May 9, 1951

The Legal Ethics and State-wide Disciplinary Committee is in receipt of an inquiry from a member of the bar as to the professional propriety of a lawyer rendering legal services to an automobile club, which membership certificate provides for legal services as follows:

“In the event legal advice is needed, arising out of the ownership and/or operation of the herein described vehicle, our attorneys will give legal advice as to the rights and responsibilities thereunto arising. The cost of this service shall be assumed by the Club according to stipulations and limitations as outlined in the general provisions.

“In the event the member has occasion to use the legal services set forth in Sections No. 5 and No. 6, the Club shall in no event assume an expense for legal service exceeding thirty per cent (30%) of the amount involved, provided further, that the maximum expense shall be $100.00, and the Club hereby expressly reserves the right to determine what is a reasonable attorney’s fee.”

The facts submitted are not complete, however the committee is of the opinion that the proposed services are within the inhibitions of Canon 35 of Professional Ethics of the American Bar Association and Oklahoma Bar Association, which is as follows:

“The professional services of a lawyer should not be controlled or exploited by any lay agency, personal or corporate, which intervenes between client and lawyer. A lawyer’s responsibilities and qualifications are individual. He should avoid all relations which direct the performance of his duties by or in the interest of such intermediary. A lawyer’s relation to his client should be personal, and the responsibility should be direct to the client. Charitable societies rendering aid to the indigent are not deemed such intermediaries.

“A lawyer may accept employment from any organization, such as an association, club or trade organization, to render legal services in any matter in which the organization, as an entity, is interested, but this employment should not include the rendering of legal services to the members of such an organization in respect to their individual affairs.”

The committee is not informed whether the club is or is not organized for profit, but it is believed that the furnishing of these legal services is a substantial inducement to membership. It is our view that legal services may be rendered to a club where they are applicable to problems common to all members of the club. This service is clearly distinguished from the purchase by the club of advice for an individual member concerning his own peculiar problems and frequently without the full and free disclosure of the factual situation essential to the proper relation of attorney and client. A. B. A. Com. of Prof. Ethics Opinions, Nos. 8 and 56 1.

This inquiry presents another problem of importance. Would the automobile club be practicing law? The following courts have held that similar facts constitute the unauthorized practice of law: State ex rel. Seawell, Attorney-General, v. Carolina Motor Club, 1936, 209 N.C. 624, 184 S.E. 540; People ex rel. Chicago Bar Association v. Motorists Association of Illinois, 1933, 354 Ill. 595, 188 N.E. 827; People ex rel. Chicago Bar Association v. Chicago Motor Club, 1935, 362 Ill. 50, 199 N.E. 1.

1 For an advisory opinion on related question see Advisory Opinion No. 143 and opinions cited therein.