NYSBA Ethics Opinion 17

By Committee on Professional Ethics

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION
Professional Ethics Committee Opinion

Opinion #17 – 11/01/1965 (8-65)

Topic: Advertising. Publication of Biographical Data
Digest: Improper for biographical and specialization data to appear in publication which is not an approved law list
Canons: Former Canons 43, 46

QUESTION

A lawyer, a member of this Association, has submitted to the Committee the following information concerning a proposed biographical publication, The publishers have advised him that he has been nominated for inclusion and state that this volume has been borne of a desire to create a permanent and enduring record of living Americans whose dedication and strength of purpose provide the spirit, the industry and the means whereby America’s greatness is perpetuated as a nation; that inclusion in the volume is contingent on merit alone and that no fee or payment of any kind is required.  Their letter also makes a special offer to each individual who is included, namely, the right to receive a handsome, personalized citation, suitable for framing, for $5.00.  An enclosed order blank give pre-publication prices for the book, ranging from $47.50 to $79.50, depending on whether the lawyer orders an ordinary edition, a special edition, or a deluxe edition.The research department of the publication has assembled facts regarding the lawyer’s family, education, membership in Bar Association, and the like, and a questionnaire tentatively filled out by the lawyer, but not filed pending review by this Committee 1 shows his membership in the American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association and his chairmanship and membership in a number of Bar Association committees dealing with the field of insurance; also h is past employment with five well known: Insurance companies and with the insurance department of a very large corporation, and h is holding of an important public pos it ion.  His home and office telephone numbers and addresses are requested by the publisher (but not for publication).It does not appear who nominated the lawyer for inclusion in the volume, and it does not appear whether the lawyer’s name, picture and biography will be included in the volume if he does not subscribe.
The attorney is requested to review, correct and supplement the data which the publishers have assembled and to authorize its publication, together with his photograph, in the proposed volume.Would it be ethically proper for the lawyer to authorize such publication of biographical data and of his photograph?

OPINION 

It is the opinion of the Committee that it would be professionally improper for the lawyer, in the context stated, to authorize the proposed publication of biographical data with his photograph.  In the first place, it borders on advertising of an specialized legal service, in violation of Canon 46.   The volume is not an approved Law List referred to in Canon 43, nor a Law List as defined in the Rules and Standards of Law Lists of the American Bar Association, nor is it one of the specific directories listed in a recent “Caution on Law Lists” issued by this Committee, for inclusion in which directories members were presently being solicited, (Drinker, page 365). Even if it were a Law List, the inclusion of biographical data referring to the specialty of the lawyer would not be approved. There is little or nothing in the suggested biography of general interest to the public or to lawyers except a listing of the lawyer’s experience in the field of insurance.The purchase of a “handsome, personalized citation, suitable for framing, for $5.00” if it should be hung or exhibited in the lawyer’s office, would seem to be in bad taste.In American Bar Association Opinion No. 207, it was held that it would be unethical for a lawyer to subscribe to a publication entitled “One Hundred Professional Men and Women of Helena [Montana], Doctors, Dentists, Judges, Lawyers”, where only the name of lawyers would be included who had paid $15, for which they would receive 15 copies.

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