NYSBA Ethics Opinion 75

By Committee on Professional Ethics

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION
Professional Ethics Committee Opinion

Opinion #75 – 04/03/1968 (1-68)

Topic:  Solicitation
Digest:  May legal aid societies send letters informing indigent clients that there is pending and eviction proceeding against them
Canon: Former Canon 27

QUESTION

The Legal Aid Society of Albany, Inc., has instituted a program involving Tenant Notification of Eviction Proceedings. Procedures were set up whereby the name and address of each respondent in a Summary Dispossess Proceeding filed in court are obtained together with ‘certain other information.”  Then, a form letter is sent to each tenant respondent “Notifying them that an eviction proceeding has been commenced; that there may be a good defense; suggesting that if the tenant wishes to defend, he consult an attorney; and if he cannot afford an attorney that he contact the Legal Aid Society of Albany.”The Committee is asked if the above procedures followed by the Legal Aid Society are consistent with the Canons of Ethics.         An additional inquiry is made as to whether the Committee’s answer would “differ if the address of respondents were screened to exclude those outside of the low income areas of the city.”

OPINION

It is the opinion of the Committee that it would not be improper for the Legal Aid Society to send an appropriate form letter intended to achieve the purpose mentioned in the inquiry. It is, however, the opinion of the Committee that any reference to the fact that “there may be a good defense” should be deleted from the letter.This inquiry involves an interpretation of Canon 27 concerning solicitation.  It has been held in the past that Bar Associations may issue publications advising the layman of the importance of seeking legal advice (ABA 121, 179, Jacksonville Bar Association v. Wilson, 102 So. (2) 292, Fla. 1958).  The main purpose of the anti-solicitation statute is to prevent commercialization of the legal profession.  The practice inquired about would not compromise this principle.  In fact, the Bar, by permitting the Society to do this, would be aiding in the effort to provide legal services to the disadvantaged. (See 41 Notre Dame Lawyer 961).The Committee believes that letters of this type should be sent only to those who presumptively might be unable to pay for legal services, Hence the letters should be forwarded only to residences of low income areas.

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