Ethics Opinion 164

By Committee on Professional Ethics

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION
Professional Ethics Committee Opinion

Opinion #164 – 10/09/1970 (50, 55-70)

Topic: Letterhead, Advertising
Digest: A lawyer who holds public office and engage; in private practice may not show public office on letterhead used in private practice
Code:  DR 2-102 (A) (4); Canon Judicial Ethics: 31

QUESTION

Where a lawyer who holds the position of city judge or district attorney is also permitted private practice, may he properly set forth such position on the letterhead which he uses in private practice?

OPINION

Under DR 2-102 ( A)( 4) of the Code of Professional Responsibility a lawyer shall not use letterheads except “A letterhead of a lawyer identifying him by name and as a lawyer, and giving his addresses, telephone numbers, the name of his law firm and associates and any information permitted under DR 2-105,” the last referring to specialties of practice.Under the former Canons it was ruled that a lawyer’s letterhead should not state that he had been States Attorney or judge. [Unreported Decisions A.B.A. Nos. 118, 119. “A lawyer’s letterhead should not …show …any public office he has held or is holding.” Wise, Legal Ethics, 146 (2nd ed. 1970). Also Drinker, Legal Ethics, 229 (1953).]Where a judge or district attorney is permitted private practice, while it may be helpful to show his public office on his letterhead so as to indicate the limitations of his practice, such act is also subject to being construed as an advertisement and self touting or as an exercise of improper pressure because of his position.Canon 31 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics emphasizes this in respect to a judge.”In such cases one who practices law is in a position of great delicacy and must be scrupulously careful to avoid conduct in his practice whereby he utilizes or seems to utilize his judicial position to further his professional success.It is the Committee’s opinion that in a letterhead used for private practice, it is improper to show a present or former public office held by the lawyer.

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