State Bar Ethics Opinions cite the applicable California Rules of Professional Conduct in effect at the time of the writing of the opinion. Please refer to the California Rules of Professional Conduct Cross Reference Chart for a table indicating the corresponding current operative rule. There, you can also link to the text of the current rule.
Ethical propriety of listings by lawyers and law firms in out-of-town telephone directories.
Rule 2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar.1
The opinion of this Committee is sought on the following questions:
1. Is it ethical for a law firm which does not maintain an office in the geographical area covered by the telephone directory:
a. To list the firm name in the classified section?
b. To list each of its members individually, with the firm name under their names, in the classified section?
2. Is it ethical for a law firm having a branch office in the geographical area covered by the telephone directory to list all of its members individually, together with the firm name below, including members of the firm who do not work at the branch inside the geographical area?
Rule 2, section (a), of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar provides, in part:
"Rule 2. Section (a). A member of the State Bar shall not solicit professional employment by advertisement or otherwise. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing a member of the State Bar shall not solicit professional employment by
"(2) Using a newspaper, magazine, radio, television, books, circulars, pamphlets or any medium of communication whether or not for compensation, to advertise the name of the lawyer or his law firm or the fact that he is a member of the State Bar or the bar of any jurisdiction; nothing herein shall be deemed to prevent the publication in a customary and appropriate manner of articles, books, treatises or other writing."
Rule 2, section (b), of the Rules of Professional Conduct in part, provides:
"... nor shall this rule prevent listings in classified sections of telephone and city directories...provided, however, that a listing in a telephone or city directory shall not be in distinctive type, style or form or contain anything other than name, address, telephone number and designation as an attorney at law, and shall not, except as hereinafter authorized, appear under any classification or heading other than a single one used to designate attorneys at law,..."
It may be noted that while rule 2 specifically prohibits the use of any medium of communication "to advertise the name of the lawyer or his law firm," it permits nondistinctive "listings" in the classified section of the telephone directory pertaining to attorneys. While limitations have been placed on the form and location of the listing in the directory, there is no provision in the rule restricting the geographical area in which an otherwise proper listing may be maintained.
The questions of where a lawyer or law firm may maintain a proper telephone listing, and what is a proper listing, have been considered on several occasions by the Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances of the American Bar Association. [Former] canon 27 of the Canons of Ethics of the American Bar Association, like rule 2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, renders advertising by lawyers improper; but, unlike rule 2, [former] canon 27 does not contain any guidelines regarding telephone listings as such. On the question of listings by lawyers in out-of-town directories, however, the Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances rendered informal opinions Nos. 573(a) (1963) and C-732 (1965) which treat, at least in part, the questions presented here.
Whereas earlier opinions of the American Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances could have been read as suggesting impropriety in maintaining telephone listings outside the area in which a lawyer either maintained an office or his residence, that committee now finds no unethical implications in the maintenance of a proper listing in the classified section of a telephone directory in any community where the lawyer "practices." The American Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances has specifically recognized that a lawyer may practice in areas other than those in which his office is located and has stated that the question of whether he does so is a fact question to be determined in each case.
It seems to this Committee that the questions to be decided require consideration of both the situation and the motivation of the lawyer in placing the listing. Where the lawyer is practicing extensively in the community, whether or not he resides there or maintains an office there, the telephone listing is a convenience to the public and facilitates communication with the lawyer, and no impropriety arises. At the other extreme, if the lawyer has not practiced in or had any professional contacts with a community, which community is outside the area in which his office is situated, the listing would be an improper attempt to advertise the lawyer or firm, rather than an attempt to facilitate communication between persons using the telephone. In between these extremes, each case would require a determination of the extent of the contacts of the lawyer with the community in question before the question of the propriety of the out-of-town listing in the classified section could be resolved.
We believe that the same ethical standards apply to law firms as apply to individual lawyers. That is to say, if a law firm is practicing in a community outside of the area in which it maintains its office, then the listing of the firm or its individual members, or both, in the classified section of the telephone directory of the community, would facilitate telephonic communications between clients or courts or other agencies and the attorneys, and such listing is not unethical. This would be so even though an incidental effect of the listing might be to bring the names of the lawyers or the name of the firm to the attention of the users of the yellow pages.
Where a lawyer is practicing with a law firm there is no impropriety in listing the firm name below the lawyer's name in the telephone directory. The Committee, however, does not endorse the practice of listing the individual attorneys' names under the firm name in either the alphabetical or classified section of a telephone directory. This repetitive form of listing seems more calculated to advertise the lawyer than to assist users of the telephone book in finding him.
It is, of course, assumed that any listing in any directory will be nondistinctive and will be under the heading "Attorneys" or "Lawyers" only.
This opinion is issued by the Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct of The State Bar of California. It is advisory only. It is not binding upon the courts, The State Bar of California, its Board of Governors, any persons or tribunals charged with regulatory responsibilities, or any member of the State Bar.
1 [PUBLISHER'S NOTE: A complete revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct was approved by the Supreme Court effective January 1, 1975. (See (1975) 14 Ca1.3d Rules 1 and "Cross Reference of Present Rules of Professional Conduct to Former Rules of Professional Conduct," in Part III.D.)]