November 3, 1969
Ethics Opinon 1969-8
SUBJECT: SEMINAR CONDUCTED FOR EXISTING CLIENTS
Is it professionally proper for a law firm to hold a series of seminars limited to existing clients on matters relating to former employment, i.e., tax programs, and to solicit participation in the seminars for a fee?
Strict professionalism requires that such advice, if given, must be given on an individual basis only.
RULES AND OPINIONS
Disciplinary Rule 2-104, Suggestion of Need of Legal Services, Code of Professional Ethics, American Bar Association, states in part:
"(A) A lawyer who has given unsolicited advice to a layman that he should obtain counsel or take legal action shall not accept employment resulting from that advice except that:
"(1) A lawyer may accept employment by a close friend, relative, former client (if the advice is germane to the former employment), or one whom the lawyer reasonably believes to be a client."
A.B.A. Opinion 213 (1941), provides:
"It certainly is not improper for a lawyer to advise his regular clients of new statutes, court decisions, and administrative rulings, which may affect the client's interests, provided the communication is strictly limited to such information . . ."
There is little question that existing rules governing legal ethics allow attorneys to advise former and regular clientele of matters which would assist and protect the interest of the particular client, without the necessity for the client to request such information. In fact, in the specific case of will drafting, it is not only an attorney's right to render such volunteer advice, but more likely his duty to advise his client of any change of fact or law which might defeat the client's testamentary purpose as expressed in the will. Such "volunteer advice", however, should be subject to strict limitations.
Without interpretation, Rule 2-104 offers little in the way of guidance to a lawyer contemplating the dispensing of volunteer advice. Opinion 213, however, does offer some guidance. Particular note is taken of the word "strict" in the Opinion, as the proposed seminars appear to be particularly broad in scope.
It is the opinion of the committee that the current guidelines for professional ethics in this area require scrupulous conduct on the part of an attorney extending volunteer advice to an existing or former client. The most liberal interpretation of those guidelines cannot possibly find authority for giving a blanket seminar to all existing clients in a tax-oriented firm, even assuming that only the tax clients were invited to such a seminar. The Committee feels that the rules governing "volunteer advice" contemplate a one-to-one situation where the attorney offering the advice has done so after having reviewed the file and determined, on an individual basis, that the individual client is in actual need of such advice. The situation proposed is easily distinguishable from those situations in which recommendations are made concerning will revisions. The will cases contemplate an individual and unique will which, standing alone, might be the only will requiring revision. To suggest a seminar to all clients for whom wills have been written, in the event of a change in the law, would detract from the professionalism required in a law practice. The fact that the firm in question is offering broad, general tax savings advice to a large group of firm clients by way of a seminar, and charging a fee for the seminar, more than removes the firm from the permissible limits of the Disciplinary Rules.
This opinion is advisory only. It is not binding upon the State Bar, the Board of Governors, its agents or employees.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This opinion was reviewed on July 26, 1976 and its conclusion was found to be valid and not in conflict with Opinion 1974-21.
Disclaimer: This opinion was issued by the Legal Ethics Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association. It is advisory only and is not binding upon any member of the SDCBA, any other member of the State Bar of California, the State Bar of California or its Board of Governors, or any persons or tribunals charged with regulatory responsibilities. The SDCBA, its officers, directors, agents, and the Legal Ethics Committee members assume no responsibility or liability in rendering this opinion.