Ethics Opinion 103

By Committee on Professional Ethics

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION
Professional Ethics Committee Opinion

Opinion #103 – 06/10/1969 (3-69)

Topic:  Charitable gifts as indirect advertising
Digest:  Law firm name may appear on a plaque in a law school where firm makes contribution to law school’s building fund.
Canon:  Former Canon 27

QUESTION

May a law school recognize law firm donors to a law school building fund by the use of commemorative plaques which would read: “The gift of Smith, Jones, Brown & Robinson, and Attorneys at Law”?

OPINION

For many years it has been customary for leading law schools to solicit funds and to recognize in various ways those whose generosity has helped support the school, thereby contributing to improving the quality of legal education.  Dignified recognition of donors and contributors to law schools has for many years been sanctioned by custom, as long as the form of recognition has conformed to professional standards and has not appeared to involve possible indirect solicitation of clients in violation of Canon 27.In our opinion, a simple plaque identifying the donor of a particular facility which is placed on the door or wall of the facility would not be inappropriate, whether the donor is an individual or a la; firm. Such a plaque could properly read: “Gift of John Doe” or “Gift of Smith, Jones, Brown & Robinson”.  In neither case, however, would it be appropriate to include a further identification or the donors as practicing lawyers, as would be the case if the plaque included the words “attorneys at law”.  Such a designation, by calling attention to the donor’s profession would appear to violate Canon 27’s prohibition against advertising and indirect solicitation.Similar principles would apply to any publicity given to contri­butions by individual lawyers and lat; firms to legal aid organizations, bar associations, and similar law related organizations and charities.  He recognize, whom ever, that public recognition of law firm contributions to non-law related charities may be violative of Canon 27 as involving a form of indirect advertising.  See e.g. ABA Inf. 633, which disapproves putting a law firm’s name on a plaque in a hospital listing contributors to a hospital capital fund drive.  Thus our opinion should not be read as expressing approval of public recognition for law firm contributions made to non-law related charities.The propriety of publicity for charitable gifts depends on the absence of circumstances which make the gift a vehicle fox possible client solicitation.

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