Ethics Opinions from the Bar Association of San Francisco
INFORMAL OPINION 1974-2
A periodical which provides a reporting service on current California political campaign laws can list the name of the law firm it has retained as legal counsel if the identification states only the name of the firm in type and size no larger nor more prominent than the adjoining textual materials and contains no language which could be understood to extol the ability or special competence of the firm.
A new periodical which provides a reporting service on current California political campaign laws for sale to political candidates, campaign organizations and contributors has retained a law firm as legal counsel. May the publication list the name of the law firm in its monthly newsletter and other written communications to subscribers?
Similarly, DR 2-101 of the Code of Professional Responsibility of the American Bar Association provides as follows:
A number of American Bar Association opinions have dealt with the question of the propriety of particular publicity. A fair reading of these opinions is that the publicity is proscribed only when, under the circumstances, its primary purpose is the furtherance of the professional employment of the lawyer and it is not a necessary incident of a proper and legitimate objective of the client which does not have the effect of unduly publicizing the lawyer. See A.B.A. Opinions, 184 (1938), 285 (1951), 140 (1935), 290 (1956) and 285 (1951).
Two California Supreme Court decisions point toward the same conclusion. In Millsberg v. State Bar , 6 Cal.3d 65 (1971), the Court publicly reproved a lawyer who had lent himself to "an accomplished plan or design of publicizing petitioners by identifying him as a member of the Bar, lauding his legal expertise, or both" (6 Cal.3d at 74). A review of this case, however, demonstrates both a pattern of repeated publicity and laudation of the lawyer's skills. In the recent case of Belli v. State Bar , 10 Cal.3d 824 (1974), the Court specifically held that the solicitation of lecture engagements without a finding that anything at the lectures constituted prohibited solicitation of legal business could not be proscribed without interfering with the lawyer's First Amendment rights. The Court cited Millsberg , supra , for the proposition that if the bar seeks to discipline an attorney for a communication incident to protected speech, it must demonstrate that the communication was principally directed toward the generation of business for his law practice.
Although the communication involved here does not concern the protected speech of the law firm, it does affect the protected speech of the law firm's client. Since it appears that the identification of the law firm is a necessary incident of a legitimate objective of the client and there is no undue publication of the firm, there is no violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
All opinions of the Committee are subject to the following disclaimer:
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.