January 12, 1981
It is ethically proper for a lawyer to disseminate advertisement literature which promotes a lawyer's other businesses in which he/she engages in where the lawyer's qualifications in those other businesses are related to his/her law practice, and where the lawyer by virtue of the ownership in said other business enterprise interest can exercise complete control over the use of the legal identification and designation contained in said advertising materials.
Your letter seeking an Informal Opinion of the State Bar of Michigan, Professional and Judicial Ethics Committee has been referred to the undersigned for a response. Specifically, you wish to know: (1) if it is ethically proper to distribute your professional accounting tax services advertisement materials which includes a reference to your membership in the State Bar of Michigan; and (2) is it proper to disseminate said advertisement literature by posting same on general information bulletin boards and or display counter tops in professional buildings.
I shall respond in the same order of your requests.
Given the present status of the Advertising Rules, lawyers are free to disseminate just about any information concerning themselves and or their practice so long as the information is not false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive.
Under the current Rule (order 1978-4) it is apparent that a lawyer could advertise other businesses in which he/she engages in where the qualifications in those other businesses are related to his/her law practice skills. In the instant case I am of the opinion that the subject advertisement materials meet the said qualification test and therefore are not violative of the ethics code. It seems apparent to me that unlike the factual circumstances of Informal Opinion CI-561, 1980, which made findings of fact that the lawyer had no ownership interest in the unrelated business enterprise, and thus was unable to exercise control over the use of the legal identification by the subject enterprise; your admitted complete ownership interest in the sought to advertised enterprise permits you to exercise complete control over the use of the legal profession identification and designation contained in said materials. Thus, factually your case can be distinguished from the aforestated Informal Opinion CI-561. However, I would suggest that in order to alleviate any possible claims of misleading statements, the line reference "5 years Tax Experience" in your planned materials which immediately supercedes your "State Bar Membership," line reference should be further explained to include, if true and accurate, your tax law experience. Absent this suggested clarification, the reader of your materials could be possibly misled.
Likewise, given the present status of the advertising Rules, (1978-4), lawyers are permitted to disseminate, in any form of public communication, their professional materials as described above, so long as the information is not directed to an individual or group of individuals that have an already identified need for legal services urging the recipient to employ the services of the lawyer-sender. (See C-218, 1979).
In summary, your intended distribution scheme would not violate existing standards of professional ethics.
Although this opinion has been prepared by the undersigned, it has been circulated to other Committee members for their concurrence prior to its release to you.