Ethics Opinion 1974-19

October 21, 1974



May an attorney offer to donate his legal services to a charitable organization which conducts a public auction to sell donated goods and services in order to raise money for its charitable purposes?


No. An attorney may not offer free legal services to a charitable organization because such would be a solicitation of business.


Both Canon 27 of Professional Ethics of the A.B.A. and Rule 2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California state in substance that it is unethical for a lawyer to solicit professional employment directly or indirectly. Rule 21 of the Rules of Professional Conduct permits the publicizing of a legal aid plan or program, if the names of the participating attorneys are not publicized. However, said Rule proscribes any such publicizing if there is a substantial likelihood that the names of the attorneys will be made public.


The Committee on Legal Ethics of the Los Angeles County Bar Association has considered the applicability of Canon 27 to the rendering of legal services for a charitable organization. In Formal Opinion No. 196 (1952) a church had distributed a booklet urging each member of the congregation to make a Will, and contained the following sentence:

"Attorneys in this church whose names are available upon request, have volunteered their services without charge in drawing Wills in which the church is included as a beneficiary." The Ethics Committee held that those attorneys who permitted their names to be used on the list compiled by the church, were indirectly soliciting business. The Opinion stated:

"Under the facts stated above, however, it appears to the Committee that the maintenance, use and advertisement of a Lawyers Reference List by a religious institution is a means through which business would inevitably be secured by those whose names are on the list."


Canon 27, Rule 2 and Los Angeles County Formal Opinion No. 196 make it clear that an attorney may not offer free legal services to a charitable organization if the availability of such services will be publicized by the charity, and there is a reasonable expectation that the charity will provide the name or maintain a list of attorneys' names who will receive referrals from the charity as a result of the publicity and auction.

In this writer's opinion, the fact that the charitable organization will "auction off" the free service of Will drafting is per se publicizing the availability of legal services. Furthermore, the charity must necessarily maintain a list of attorneys who have donated their services, so that those bidders-customers who "buy" the services at the auction, can be referred to the proper attorney. An attorney participating in such a program would therefore secure business directly as a result of the advertising of the Will drafting service through the medium of an auction. This writer concludes that offering free legal services to be "auctioned off" for a charity, is a direct or indirect solicitation of professional employment.

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 subject matter of Canon 27 is also found in the Code of Professional Responsibility of the A.B.A. in Canon 2 of the Disciplinary Rules thereunder. Effective 1/1/75, Rule 2 of the State Bar is found in Rules 2-101 through 2-104, and Rule 21 is found in Rule 2-104.


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.