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Ethics Opinions from the Bar Association of San Francisco

INFORMAL OPINION 1970-2

A lawyer may send a letter to members of the Bar stating he is in the position to handle nominal and no-asset bankruptcies and would welcome referrals of such cases if the letter is dignified, does not contain a representation of special competence or experience, and is not distributed more frequently than once in a calendar year, although such a notice may be published periodically in legal journals. (Rule DR 2-105 (A) (3)).

QUESTION:
Would it be improper, as a matter of professional ethics, to send the following letter to members of the San Francisco Bar:

Dear Mr. Smith:

This office specializes in nominal and no-asset bankruptcies, and we would welcome the referral of cases in this area that your firm may find burdensome or financially unacceptable.

OPINION:

The ethical principles applicable to your inquiry are well stated in Rule DR 2-105(A)(3) of the American Bar Association, Code of Professional Responsibility:

(3) A lawyer available to act as a consultant to or as an associate of other lawyers in a particular branch of law or legal service may distribute to other lawyers and publish in legal journals a dignified announcement of such availability, but the announcement shall not contain a representation of special competence or experience. The announcement shall not be distributed to lawyers more frequently than once in a calendar year, but it may be published periodically in legal journals. The proposed letter would seem to fall within the spirit of this rule, provided that it is in dignified form and that it is not distributed more frequently than once a year.

In one respect, however, a slight change in wording might avoid any possible question of unethical practice. The rule provides that the announcement shall not contain a representation of special competence or experience. The use of the word "specializes" might imply particular competence or experience. It might be wise, therefore, to avoid that word, and to substitute something to the effect that the office is in a position to handle matters of the kind stated.

All opinions of the Committee are subject to the following disclaimer:
Opinions rendered by the Ethics Committee are an uncompensated service of The Bar Association of San Francisco. Opinions are advisory only, and no liability whatsoever is assumed by the Committee or The Bar Association of San Francisco in rendering such opinions, and the opinions are relied upon at the risk of the user thereof. Opinions of the Committee are not binding in any manner upon the State Bar of California, the Board of Governors, any disciplinary committee, The Bar Association of San Francisco, or the individual members of the Ethics Committee.

In using these opinions you should be aware that subsequent judicial opinions and revised rules of professional conduct may have dealt with the areas covered by these ethics opinions.

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