Ethics Opinions

Opinion No. 77-15

Summary: The committee has reconsidered that portion of its Opinion No. 74-1 which forbids the use of credit card signs or insignia in the office of a lawyer, in the light of more recent cases construing the First Amendment as applied to professional advertising, including the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Bates et al v. State Bar of Arizona rendered June 27, 1977. We now hold that the truthful use of credit card signs or insignia in the office of a lawyer is proper.

Facts: A lawyer has asked the committee to "reconsider that portion of Opinion No. 74-1 which forbids the use of credit card signs or insignia in the office." The precise holding on the matter in Opinion No. 74-1 at p. 51 is as follows:
We believe it would be unprofessional for a lawyer to publicize the fact that he accepts credit card payments for his services, even by displaying a small credit card sign or insignia in his office. See Disciplinary Rule DR 2-102.
There should be no advertising or promotion of any credit card plan, either by the lawyer directly or indirectly through the participating bank.

Discussion: We have reconsidered the above-quoted portion of Opinion No. 74-1 in the light of the binding decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on First Amendment grounds in Bates et al v. State Bar of Arizona, 45 U.S.L.W. 4895,___Sup. Ct. ___,___ L.Ed.___ (June 27, 1977), and of the decision in Health System Agency v. Virginia State Board of Medicine, 424 F. Supp., 267 (D. Ct. E.D. Va. 1976) in connection with advertising by physicians.
From the Bates case it is clear that advertising of the method of payment (cash or credit card) is protected by the First Amendment in connection with any proper advertising of the price of legal services. It is not subject to any of the prohibitions set forth in the majority opinion. Two of the dissenting Justices (Powell and Stewart, J.J.) believed that an advertisement of "the finite item of rate per hour devoted to the client's problem" would be less likely to be deceiving or misleading than the advertising of specific services at a fixed price which the majority of the court approved. The method of payment is a clearly defined matter, of interest to all prospective clients.
We note further that a Virginia statute prohibiting a physician from advertising (inter alia) the "credit terms" for his professional services was held unconstitutional in 1976 by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in the Health System Agency case. The case, decided before the Bates case in the Supreme Court, applied two earlier decisions of the Court, Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976) and Bigelow v. Virginia, 421 U.S. 809 (1975).
We therefore withdraw the blanket prohibition of advertising of credit cards in any way in paragraph (2) of the Summary of Opinion No. 74-1 and the above-quoted portion of the Discussion of the question therein. We would add, however, that the Supreme Court in the Bates case did not hold "that advertising by attorneys may not be regulated in any way." The truthful "use of credit card signs or insignia in the office," which is the subject of this inquiry, is clearly proper.


Permission to publish granted by the Board of Delegates, 1977. 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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