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.
May a member of the bar offer a lecture course to businesspersons or other lay persons in the fundamentals of certain areas of the law?
Rules 1, 2, and 18 of the Rules of Professional conduct of the State Bar.1
The opinion of this Committee is sought on the following question: Is it ethical for a member of the California Bar to offer a private course in which he would lecture and instruct businesspersons or other lay persons in the fundamentals of certain areas of the law, i.e., torts, contracts, wills, real property, etc., under the following conditions furnished by the attorney requesting the opinion:
"1. The course would be conducted in format similar to Bar Review courses, except that those who take it would not be preparing for the Bar.
"2. The stated purpose of the course would be to make those who take it aware of general principles of law so as to be better equipped to conduct their personal and business lives. It would be specifically disavowed as a course preparatory to the practice of law. No diploma or degree would be offered.
"3. Questions would be asked and answered only as hypotheticals, and even hypothetical questions would not be answered where they purported to concern individuals or their particular problems.
"4. Lectures would not be given at or otherwise associated with any law office.
"5. The attorney would not accept any of those he lectured as either his law clients or as clients of his law firm, nor would he refer them to any other lawyer.
"6. Any course advertising would refer only to the course, its characteristics, its benefits, etc., and that it was given by a member of the California Bar--and the name of the attorney giving the course, the name of his law firm, his law office address and his usual law office telephone number would not be mentioned.
There is no rule of professional conduct of the State Bar directly covering the subject of lectures by an attorney to lay persons.
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:
"(1) Volunteering counsel or advice except where ties of blood relationship or trust make it appropriate.
"(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 18 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar provides as follows:
"Rule 18. A member of the State Bar shall not advise inquirers or render opinions to them through or in connection with a newspaper, radio or other publicity medium of any kind in respect to their specific legal problems, whether or not such attorney shall be compensated for his services."
[Former] canon 40 of the Canons of Professional Ethics of the American Bar Association2 provides that:
"A lawyer may with propriety write articles for publications in which he gives information upon the law; but he should not accept employment from such publications to advise inquirers in respect to their individual rights."
And [former] canon 27 of the Canons of Ethics of the American Bar Association provides, in part, that:
"It is unprofessional to solicit professional employment by circulars, advertisements, through touters or by personal communications or interviews not warranted by personal relations. Indirect advertisements for professional employment such as furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments, or procuring his photograph to be published in connection with causes in which the lawyer has been or is engaged or concerning the manner of their conduct, the magnitude of the interest involved, the importance of the lawyer's position, and all other self-laudation, offend the traditions and lower the tone of our profession and are reprehensible; but the customary use of simple professional cards is not improper."
In discussing [former] canon 40, Henry S. Drinker, in his work on legal ethics, states:
"The application of Canon 40 to borderline cases always involves the question of good faith on the part of the lawyer and of the publisher or sponsor of the article or address." (Legal Ethics (1953) at p. 263.)
The Committee on Professional Ethics of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York has rendered the following opinions which are applicable to the subject matter of this request:
"Number 334, April 2, 1935: That there was not professional impropriety in the delivery of lectures over the radio on general business law, the sole purpose of which was to provide an educational program explaining in a broad manner comprehensive principles of the law applicable to every day experience; that the speaker should be introduced simply as a member of the bar, and his office address should not be given and neither should there be any puffing or touting in connection with the lectures.'"
"Number 529, January 17, 1940: That a lawyer may conduct a radio program on legal matters, the program including questions and answers citing merely the point of law but not replying to personal questions, provided that the only reference to him is his name and that he is a member of the New York Bar and that there was nothing in the program in the nature of self-advertising."
The Los Angeles County Bar Association Committee on Legal Ethics has also rendered an opinion which bears on the problem presented:
"Opinion Number 175, August 22, 1950: In this opinion it was held that a lawyer may with propriety write articles for publications in which he gives information upon the law; but he should not use a newspaper to advise inquirers in respect to their individual rights or to render opinions to them even anonymously and that be should not solicit professional employment by direct or indirect advertisement."
The conditions under which the lectures would be given under the facts before us seem to eliminate either self-laudation or advertising or solicitation so far as the member of the bar giving the lecture is concerned. His compensation is not stated but we assume that he would be paid a lecture fee by those who attend the course.
Under the facts mentioned it does not appear that the course under the conditions set forth would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar or the Canons of Ethics of the American Bar Association, provided there is no deviation from any of those conditions, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of the course. Each case must necessarily be decided upon its own facts and the good faith of the lawyer is in most, if not all, the deciding factor.
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 l, 1975. (See (1975) 14 Cal.3d Rules 1 and "Cross Reference of Present Rules of Professional Conduct to Former Rules of Professional Conduct," in Part III.D.)]
2 Under rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar, all of the Canons of the American Bar Association are commended to the members of the State Bar of California.