NYSBA Ethics Opinion 66

By Committee on Professional Ethics

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION
Professional Ethics Committee Opinion

Opinion #66 – 01/08/1968 (23-67)

Topic: Writing for Lay Publication
Digest: Lawyer may author articles of general legal information so long as he does not answer specific questions and does not appear to solicit
Canon: Former Canons 27, 35, 40

QUESTION

A lawyer who is the counsel to a trade association has been requested to submit articles discussing matters of law pertaining to the industry for inclusion in the association’s monthly bulletin.  This bulletin is distributed, without charge, to the members of the association and others interested in the industry who are on the association’s mailing list.  The articles would appear over the lawyer’s name. He asks whether there would be any ethical objection.

OPINION

It is the committee’s opinion that the proposed practice would not be improper provided that the articles contain only general information and do not attempt to answer specific questions submitted by members of the association seeking legal advice relating to their own affairs.  Identification of the lawyer should be limited to the fact that he is a lawyer and a member of the Bar and counsel to the association.Canon 40, provides in part:  “A lawyer may with propriety write articles for publications in which he gives information upon the law.” An attorney so doing does not violate the provisions of Canon 35 which state that the relations between a lawyer and those to whom he gives legal advice should be direct and personal and that this service must not be exploited by an intervening lay agency.  Also, the practice would not violate Canon 27 which prohibits solicitation or advertising if the articles are of a general nature. See Opinion No. 92 of the American Bar Association.Opinion No. 804 of The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, dated May 2, 1955, approved the publication and dissemination of a statement prepared by a lawyer who was counsel to a trade association concerning the import and effect of a court decision of interest to the industry and the members of the association. The committee stated, however, that care should be exercised to avoid having the statement contain anything that could be interpreted either as giving advice to members of the association in respect to their individual affairs or as indirect advertising.Informal Decision No. 538 of the American Bar Association holds that it is not improper for the legal advisor of a fraternal organization to contribute articles of a general nature on practical questions of law to the organization’s publication.

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