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Ethics Opinion

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RI-99

September 20, 1991

SYLLABUS

    A law firm co-sponsoring a seminar with a local hospital may set up a booth outside the seminar room to market the law firm, as long as the information communicated about the firm does not violate ethics rules, seminar attendees have the free option to stop at the booth or walk away, and attendees who wish to retain the firm's services are advised to contact the law firm office to set up an appointment.

    References: MRPC 7.1, 7.3; RI-81. CI-1042 is superseded.

TEXT

A law firm plans to co-sponsor a seminar with departments of a local hospital. Other lawyers, health care providers, insurance company representatives and social workers would be invited to attend. The law firm will be paying for the seminar room at a local hotel and one of its lawyers will be a speaker. The lawyer asks whether a booth may be set up outside the presentation room to market the law firms' services and what references may be made to the lawyer's background and professional experience in the seminar presentation.

MRPC 7.1 states:

    "A lawyer may, on the lawyer's own behalf, on behalf of a partner or associate, or on behalf of any other lawyer affiliated with the lawyer or the lawyer's law firm, use or participate in the use of any form of public communication that is not false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive. A communication shall not:

      "(a) contain a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omit a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;

      "(b) be likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or state or imply that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or

      "(c) compare the lawyers' services with other lawyers' services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated."

In RI-81 the Committee held that a law firm which represented several allegedly defrauded claimants in an investment venture could present a free seminar for other similarly situated individuals where the attendees would be allowed to form lawyer-client relationships with the firm only by independently initiated phone or written communication after the seminar.

To the extent the targeted audience in this inquiry is other professionals and not potential clients, the possibility of "overreaching or undue influence" on potential clients which is the perceived danger of in-person solicitation is even less of a danger than that permitted under RI-81. Even if potential clients attend the seminar, if the proposed marketing complies with MRPC 7.1, it does not violate MRPC 7.3. MRPC 7.3 states in part:

    "(a) lawyer shall not solicit professional employment from a prospective client with whom the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship when a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is the lawyer's pecuniary gain. The term 'solicit' includes contact in person, by telephone or telegraph, by letter or other writing, or by other communication directed to a specific recipient, but does not include letters addressed or advertising circulars distributed generally to persons not known to need legal services of the kind provided by the lawyer in a particular matter, but who are so situated that they might in general find such services useful, nor does the term 'solicit' include 'sending truthful and nondeceptive letters to potential clients known to face particular legal problems' as elucidated in Shapero v. Kentucky Bar Ass'n, 486 US 466; 108 S Ct 1916; 100 L Ed 2d 475 (1988)." Emphasis added.

To the extent seminar attendees are persons "so situated that they might in general" find the lawyer's services useful, to the extent that attendees have the free choice of stopping at the booth or not and to walk away at any time, that the information provided at the booth does not contravene MRPC 7.1, and that attendees who wish to retain the firm's services are advised to contact the office for an appointment, the seminar booth is not prohibited.

CI-1042 held that a lawyer may accept professional employment arising out of participation in a seminar so long as the lawyer does not emphasize the lawyer's experience or reputation. Since MRPC 7.1(b) and (c) allow certain statements about the lawyer if they are factually substantiated, CI-1042 is superseded.

 
     

 

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