Ethics Opinion

Opinion No. 77-13

December 1977

Summary: A Massachusetts law firm may agree with an out of state law firm to have nonprofit organizations distribute a dignified announcement to their Massachusetts members stating that the Massachusetts law firm will provide legal services to their members. No consideration is given by or received from the nonprofit organization and fees are not shared between the out of state law firm and the Massachusetts law firm. It would not be proper, however, for the Massachusetts law firm to have the names of the out of state law firm on their letterhead or otherwise use the name of the out of state law firm in Massachusetts.

Facts: A Massachusetts law firm has received a proposal to become associated with a "state-wide" California law firm, M & W, to provide group legal services to members of certain nonprofit organizations under the following arrangement:
A dignified announcement would be sent to the members of the nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts which would state that the Massachusetts lawyers would render legal advice. The announcement would include relevant biographical information. The Massachusetts law firm must agree to the following:
(1) The client has the privilege of telephoning an attorney whenever he needs to and he receives no charge for legal advice over the telephone.
(2) The client receives no charge for the initial consultation in the lawyer's office.
(3) If anything further needs to be done, the client must be quoted a fee in advance; the client is free to employ the lawyer or not. The lawyer is also free to accept or reject the individual as a client.
(4) The fee will be reasonable, and in cases where practicable, will be payable in monthly installments in amounts suitable to the budget of the client.
No fee schedule is used. The fees generated by the Massachusetts attorneys are not shared with M & W. Indeed, attorneys associated with M & W, in California, do not share fees or expenses with respect to work done under auspices of M & W.
No consideration is paid by the employer or the nonprofit organization to M & W for sending the announcement to employees or members stating that certain attorneys are available to provide legal advice.
Discussion: DR 2-103(D) prohibits a Massachusetts attorney from knowingly assisting an organization that "recommends, furnishes, or pays for legal services to promote the use of his services ..." with five exceptions. See our discussion of this rule in Opinion 76-29. The fifth exception under the Massachusetts Code of Professional Ethics (unlike California) permits participation in the plan described only with respect to members of nonprofit organizations.
If M & W proposed to the Massachusetts attorney to provide group legal services for only nonprofit organizations, then such a plan would be permissible in Massachusetts. The conditions set forth in DR 2-103(D)(5)(a)-(d) are clearly met in the M & W proposal.
We note the American Bar Association's Informal Opinion 1313, (1975), which sanctioned a similar plan for providing group legal services to members of a credit union, and we agree with the admonition in that opinion that "no one should advertise the existence of a program, with the exception of an appropriate and dignified notice of the details to the members of the credit union."
However, a Massachusetts attorney should not list on his letterhead or otherwise publicize the name of an attorney in another state, not a member of the bar of Massachusetts, with whom he is not a partner or associate. See Opinion 76-18.

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.