Ethics Opinion 1974-21

November 26, 1974



An attorney organizes a seminar for laymen regarding information on estates and financial planning. The seminar is conducted under the auspices of an educational institution. The seminar announcement includes pictures of the speakers, several of whom are lawyers, and lists personal information such as degrees, honors, areas of legal specialty, and related qualifications. One attorney distributed a class related handout on his letterhead. Is any of the above conduct unethical for an attorney?


A seminar announcement may properly list the qualifications of the participating attorneys. However, the use of the letterhead was improper.


Rule 2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California provides: "A member of the State Bar shall not solicit professional employment by advertisement or otherwise."

The Code of Professional Responsibility, Ethical Consideration 2-2 provides:

"Therefore, lawyers acting under proper auspices should encourage and participate in educational and public relations programs concerning our legal system with particular reference to legal problems that frequently arise. Such educational programs should be motivated by a desire to benefit the public rather than to obtain publicity or employment for particular lawyers. Examples of permissible activities include preparation of institutional advertisements and professional articles for lay publications and participation in seminars, lectures, and civic programs. But a lawyer who participates in such activities should shun personal publicity."


Informal Opinion No. 840 sets forth much of the rationale and permissible conduct for an attorney participating in a seminar. The committee approved a rule stating: "The seminar announcement and other written materials may list the name of a lawyer participant with a short factual and dignified statement of his qualifications." The Opinion also stated: "We recognize that there is an element of advertising in giving the name of the firm, academic degrees, legal affiliations, offices and honors but consider that on balancing of interests the facts mentioned may be stated. Seminars, when properly conducted, are beneficial and their success is in part dependent upon the number of registrants. The brochure must be prepared to show that the men who will lecture are qualified and the facts mentioned may be necessary to be shown to demonstrate their qualifications." From the above language it appears that the information included in the seminar announcement of the present case is within permissible bounds.

The use of the attorney's letterhead stationery for a class handout, however, seems to be without justification. EC 2-10 specifically authorizes the use of the attorney's letterhead. However, it is clear that the use of the stationery must be proper. Informal Opinion No. 660 quotes an unpublished and informal Opinion No. 110.6 as saying, "It is improper for a lawyer to allow his letterhead to be used for any commercial purposes. Therefore, the letterhead in this situation was 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 on October 1, 1976 and determined that the conclusion is still valid. Effective 1/1/75, Rule 2 is found in Rules 2-101 through 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.