Ethics Opinon 1976-9
July 1, 1976
SUBJECT: ADVERTISEMENT OF PARALEGALS
A nonprofit legal services center for the elderly has advertised in a local newspaper the availability of legal help from para-legal aides trained by a local attorney. Is such an advertisement permissible?
Advertisements of the availability of legal help at such centers and the opportunity to see a paralegal aide is permissible; however, an implication that paralegal aides are authorized to provide legal services is not permissible.
CANONS AND STATUTES
Business and Professions Code section 6076, Rules 2-101 and 2-102 as well as American Bar Association Disciplinary Rule 2-102 prohibit solicitation of professional employment by members of the State Bar.
Section 6151 through 6154 prohibit solicitation by agents of members of the Bar by capping and running. Section 6151 defines a "capper" or "runner" as any person acting in any manner or in any capacity as an agent for an attorney at law in the solicitation or procurement of business for such attorney.
Section 6076, Rule 2-104(F) provides an exception to the prohibition of solicitation by members of the Bar as follows:
The participation of a member of the State Bar in a legal aid plan or program for the furnishing of legal services to indigents or pursuant to the plan or program of a nonprofit organization formed for charitable or other public purposes which furnishes legal services to persons only in respect of their civic or political or constitutional rights and not otherwise in furtherance of such charitable or other public purposes of such organization, and the publicizing of such plans or programs are not, of themselves, violations of these Rules of Professional Conduct provided the name of such member of the State Bar is not publicized. . . .
Business and Professions Code section 6125 provides:
No person shall practice law in this State unless he is an active member of the State Bar.
Business and Professions Code section 6126 provides:
Any person advertising himself as practicing or entitled to practice law or otherwise practicing law . . . who is not an active member of the State Bar is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Business and Professions Code section 6127 provides in part:
The following acts or omissions in respect to the practice of law are contempts of the authority of the courts:
(a) Assuming to be an officer or attorney of a court and acting as such, without authority.
(b) Advertising or holding oneself out as practicing or as entitled to practice law or otherwise practicing law in any court, without being an active member of the State Bar.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY BAR OPINIONS
Opinion 1974-9 involved a free clinic and publicity of its services. The opinion held that a legal aid clinic may publicize the programs being offered, but not the names of participating attorneys.
Two opinions have involved the possible unlawful practice of law once employment is obtained. Opinion 1973-9 held that oral and written materials may be presented at public meetings of the Coastal Commission by a law student, however, the student must not render legal opinions as an attorney nor negotiate with other attorneys, and the student must clearly label legal arguments as the product of a lay citizen-law student not practicing law. Opinion 1974-1 held that law students can comment in writing and appear before local governmental agencies and provide input on environmental projects, provided that it is made clear to the agency that they are not licensed attorneys, nor do they provide the professional functions of a lawyer. These opinions involve law students, but they may be helpful in determining what is the "unlawful practice of law."
RESOLUTION OF THE STATE BAR
In the State Bar Newsletter of 1972, the Minutes of the Board of Governors' Meeting in March, 1972 was published. It contained the following resolution:
RESOLVED, upon consideration of report of committee on Economics of Law Practice re legal assistants . . . that the Board take the following action:
1. Endorses, on behalf of the State Bar, the concept of the use of legal assistants where appropriate by the lawyers of the state with the condition that their use be fully under the proper supervision of an active member of the State Bar.
. . .
Neither the Business and Professions Code nor the Rules of the American Bar Association specifically mention advertisement by paralegal aides. Such advertisements, therefore, must fall within one of the recognized exceptions to the prohibition of solicitation. A legal aide clinic may advertise the offering of certain services, however, the offering and providing of legal services by paralegal aides would constitute a violation of Business and Professions Code section 6126. So long as the paralegals do not act as a conduit for the advertising of a particular lawyer or law firm, their use by members of the Bar is not prohibited.
In conclusion, the advertisement as written is not permissible because of the implication that the "legal help" available from the paralegal aides is the same as the "legal services" which can only be performed by an active member of the State Bar.
This opinion is advisory only and is not binding upon the State Bar, the Board of Governors, its agents or employees.
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.