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.
Is it proper for a member of the State Bar to become an affiliate member of a board of realtors?
Rule 2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar.1
The opinion of this Committee is sought on the propriety of a member of the State Bar becoming an affiliate member of a board of realtors in a suburban area of approximately 100,000 population.
This request for an opinion is accompanied by a copy of the bylaws of the organization in question. These bylaws provide for three classifications of membership: realtor, associate and affiliate. Realtor members are licensed real estate brokers; associate members are licensed real estate salespersons; and affiliate members are individuals not eligible for membership as either realtors or associates but "interested in supporting the interests of [the] organization." Finally, the bylaws indicate that the objectives of the organization are, in general, to unite people in the real estate business to effectively influence matters affecting their interests; to promote high standards of conduct; to advocate legislation beneficial to real estate; and to oppose legislation detrimental thereto.
This request does not set forth any facts concerning the nature of the requesting attorney's practice or his reasons for wishing to join the organization.
While his discussion is focused on the question of the propriety of a lawyer actively conducting a separate business, Drinker, in his well-known text, sets forth the general ethical principles which govern the topic of outside business activities and interests of attorneys. Drinker states that the ultimate test must be whether or not, under all of the circumstances, the outside business activity or interest of an attorney involves some form of solicitation of professional employment. (Drinker, Legal Ethics (1953) at pp. 221-228.) As Drinker points out, the really difficult cases in this area involve fact situations where, for example, the attorney in question acts in a dual capacity as an attorney-CPA or an attorney-realtor and, in such fact situations, the limits of ethical conduct are often extremely difficult to define. We consider a case such as the one before us, where the facts available indicate that the attorney merely wishes to become an affiliate member of a local business group, such as a realty board, to be an easy one involving no serious ethical question. (Note ABA Committee on Prof. Ethics, informal decision No. C-488 (1961) approving membership by lawyers in chambers of commerce.)
If this request evidenced any desire by the requesting attorney to become affiliated with the realty board for the purpose of gaining profitable business connections among the membership, then there would be reason for us to find a violation of rule 2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar and of [former] canon 27 of the Canons of Professional Ethics of the American Bar Association, both of which provide, in substance, that it is improper for an attorney to solicit employment. However, this particular inquiry involves the propriety of joining or affiliating with the group, and no more, and we confine our opinion to this point. There may be any number of legitimate reasons why an attorney would wish to become affiliated with a local board of realtors. On the facts presented, this Committee has no hesitancy whatsoever in stating that it would be ethical for the requesting attorney to become an affiliate member of a local board of realtors.
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 Cal.3d Rules 1 and "Cross Reference of Present Rules of Professional Conduct to Former Rules of Professional Conduct," in Part III. D.)]