Ethics Opinion 1973-8

April 17, 1973



An attorney has a close working relationship with a number of Labor Union officials. These persons are often approached by their members who have legal problems, and the Union people often refer these members to him for help. In order to facilitate this process, the Labor people ask that the attorney give them some business cards which they may then give to members who ask for help, and may thereby refer such persons to the attorney. May the attorney ethically do so?


No. All forms of solicitation and advertising, direct and indirect, of an attorney, are condemned. Professional cards may be used only in the ordinary and customary manner. The use inquired about is not a customary use.


Rule 2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California prohibits a member of the State Bar from soliciting professional employment by advertisement or otherwise. Section b provides that "nothing in this rule shall be deemed to prevent the use, in the usual and customary matter, of ordinary professional cards, provided, however, that such use shall not extend to publication in newspapers or other media." Canon 27 of the Canon of Professional Ethics of the American Bar Association also proscribes direct or indirect advertising, but states that "the customary use of simple professional cards is not improper."


Several opinions of the American Bar Association, and other Bar Associations which have considered the question, find it unethical for an attorney to advertise or publish his professional card. All such opinions, however, deal with the publication of the card in a trade journal, newspaper or similar publication. No opinion deals strictly with the practice of an attorney handing his card to an acquaintance, at the request of the acquaintance, for the purpose of facilitating the acquaintance in referring prospective clients to the attorney. Formal Opinion No. 31 of the Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances of the American Bar Association, however, does condemn solicitation not only when it is done by the lawyer but also when he acquiesces in the use of his name in connection with such solicitation by others. Other forms of publication of the attorney's name that have been condemned as indirect advertising are: The sending out of Christmas greetings (A.B.A. Opinion No. 107), or circulars digesting local divorce laws (A.B.A. Opinion No. 73).

The question of what is the customary use of professional cards has apparently been left largely to individual bar associations. This Bar Association has not had occasion to deal with this question previously and therefore has no declared policy regarding the ethical propriety of an attorney providing professional cards to acquaintances for the purpose of facilitating their referral of potential clients to him.


Solicitation and advertising, direct or indirect, is universally condemned by Bar Association ethics committees as ethically improper, and in its more egregious forms is illegal and can lead to suspension or disbarment. It appears to this writer that the line between publication of a professional card in a newspaper or trade journal, or sending out mailers such as Christmas greetings, and having acquaintances distribute an attorney's professional card is extremely thin indeed. It is this writer's belief that it is not customary in this Bar Association for attorneys to provide their business cards to acquaintances for the purpose of facilitating the acquaintances in referring prospective clients to them. Therefore, the providing of professional cards for such purpose would be ethically improper.

This opinion is advisory only. It is not binding upon the State Bar, the Board of Governors, its agents or employees.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The committee reviewed this opinion in July, 1976 and determined that the conclusion is still valid. Effective 1/1/75, California Rule 2 is Rules 2-101 through 2-104. The State Bar of California has issued proposed amendments to these Rules which may, if approved by the Supreme Court, alter the conclusion of this opinion. Canon 27 refers to the old Canons of Professional Ethics which were followed prior to 1970; this subject is now covered by Canon 2 of the A.B.A. Code of Professional Responsibility.


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.