Ethics Opinions

Opinion No. 75-9

Summary: A lawyer who has been appointed a public administrator may send an announcement of his appointment to other lawyers in the same county, but the announcement should not indicate that he is a lawyer.

Facts: A lawyer who has been appointed a public administrator wishes to send an announcement of his appointment to other lawyers in the same county, and inquires whether it is proper to do so.

Discussion: A public administrator is a public official (appointed by the governor of the commonwealth) who is authorized to administer the estates of deceased persons in certain instances, such as where the deceased leaves property in the county but has no known spouse or heir living in the commonwealth. See generally G.L. c.194, SS1-4, and Annotation, Powers and Duties of a Public Administrator, 56 A.L.R. 2d 1183 (1957). Each of the larger counties of the commonwealth has several public administrators, and in a broad sense it may be said that within any single county the various public administrators will "compete" in offering their services; the first to apply for letters of administration usually is appointed. In some instances a public administrator may be appointed administrator of an estate by the probate court other than in his official capacity as such. See Black v. Dobbins, 325 Mass. 587 (1950).
The public administrator need not be a lawyer, and he renders services often performed by non-lawyers; in many, if not most, instances the executor or administrator of an estate is not a lawyer.
In our Opinion No. 75-8 we pointed out that it is not uncommon for practicing lawyers to perform law-related services which also are performed by non-lawyers, such as preparing tax returns or searching titles. We believe that the services of a public administrator fall into this category, so that it is not improper for the public administrator to send an announcement of his appointment to local lawyers.
However, the announcement should not indicate in any way that the public administrator who sends it is a lawyer. Disciplinary Rule DR 2-102(E) provides that: "A lawyer who is engaged both in the practice of law and another profession or business shall not so indicate on his letterhead, office sign, or professional card, nor shall he identify himself as a lawyer in any publication in connection with his other profession or business." See our Opinion No. 75-8.
We do not believe that the present situation falls within the scope of Disciplinary Rule DR 2-105(A)(3), which permits a lawyer to distribute to other lawyers an announcement of his availability "to act as a consultant to or as an associate of other lawyers in a particular branch of law or legal service."


Permission to publish granted by the B oard of Delegates, 1975. As stated in the Rules of the Committee on Professional Ethics, this advice is that of a committee without official governmental status.
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