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Ethics Opinion

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April 22, 1981


    It is ethically permissible for a lawyer who owns and operates an insurance business to receive income from said business venture, providing the lawyer controls the non-legal activity.

    It is likewise ethically appropriate for a lawyer to disseminate promotional materials advertising his/her insurance's enterprise which said materials includes the references that the lawyer is a member of the State Bar as well, providing said promotional statements are not false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive.

    It is ethically improper for a lawyer who communicates to business clients and or customers, using the "J.D." letterhead designation.

    It would not be ethical nor advisable to include either a "J.D." or "Attorney-at Law" letterhead designation on a lawyer's other business stationery. However, this prohibited conclusion should not be imposed on advertising promotional materials, per se as previously indicated.

    References: CI-596, CI-598


An inquiry has been made as at whether it would be ethically proper for a practicing lawyer to maintain a separate private law practice and at the same time be a licensed life insurance agent and receive commissions from the sale of life insurance to businesses and individuals who are not clients of the lawyer. In addition, you request a ruling whether it would be ethically appropriate for your insurance company letterhead to include the "J.D." designation.

Given the present status of the advertising rules, lawyers are free to disseminate just about any information concerning themselves and r 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. You suggest that you have a ownership interest in the advertised insurance enterprise, accordingly you can then exercise complete control over the use of the legal identification and designation contained in said written materials. Given the accuracy of the above alleged facts it is ethically proper to own and operate another business as described supra, and any promotional advertisement materials excluding legal letterhead stationery which contains a "J.D." designation does not violate the ethics code.

As to the appropriateness of your insurance company letterhead stationery to include the "J.D." designation, in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety and convey the possible impression to your insurance customers that you are communicating in the capacity of a lawyer rather than a businessperson, you must not use a "J.D." letterhead designation when corresponding to an insurance customer on your insurance business stationery.

Notwithstanding the promulgation of the current rule (order 1978-s), the use of a "J.D." letterhead in insurance correspondence, appears to be materially different from disclosing the fact that one is also an "attorney-at-law" in promotional materials distributed in connection with notifying the public that a businessman, namely insurance agent, is likewise an attorney.

In CI-596, this committee approved the use of "Member, State Bar of Michigan" in connection with a bookkeeping and tax service advertisements placed in local newspapers, flyers and business cards under circumstances where the lawyer's qualifications in the other businesses were related to his or her law practice and the lawyer, by virtue of ownership, retained complete control over the use of the lawyer identification contained in the non-legal advertising materials.

In CI-598, this committee opined that it was improper for a lawyer to use "Attorney-at-Law" signature designation on a lawyer's insurance company stationery. The basis for this decision was that the practice of law and the insurance business must not be confused. Legal advice pertaining to insurance law questions should not be given on insurance stationery and matters pertaining solely to the insurance business should not be communicated to customers of the insurance agency on legal stationery.

In summary it would not be ethical nor advisable to include either a "J. D." or "attorney-at-law" letterhead designation on a lawyer's other business stationery. However, this prohibited conclusion should not be imposed on advertising promotional materials as previously indicated.

The code of professional ethics mandates that legal advice can only be given to clients of the lawyer as a lawyer using their "J. D." or "attorney-at-law" letterhead stationery; and commercial advice can only be given to a lawyer's other business clients using non-legal letterhead stationery.



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