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Ethics Opinion

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April 10, 1981


    It is ethically improper for an attorney to include on professional legal stationery any references to other outside business endeavors.

    It is ethically permissible for an attorney to disseminate business cards and/or other advertisement materials which include references to other businesses in which the attorney engages, provided that such information is not false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive.

    References: CI-596, CI-598.


A lawyer asks whether it is proper to include the designation of both "attorney at law" and "CPA" on legal professional stationery and business cards, when the lawyer will not be engaging in public accounting.

Given the status of 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, deceptive or misleading. Under the current rule, Administrative Order 1978-4, it is apparent that a lawyer could advertise other businesses in which the lawyer engages where the qualifications in those other businesses are related to the lawyer's practice skills.

This Committee has had several opportunities to issue informal opinions regarding the ethical propriety of multiple business designations in which an attorney is engaged. In CI-596 the Committee approved the use of "Member, State Bar of Michigan" designation in connection with a bookkeeping and tax service advertisements placed in local newspapers and business cards under circumstances where the lawyer's qualifications in the other businesses were related to the law practice and the lawyer by virtue of ownership, and the lawyer retained complete control over the use of the lawyer identification contained in the nonlegal advertising materials.

In CI-598 the Committee ruled it was ethically improper for a lawyer to include in "attorney at law" stationery the reference to an outside insurance business interest. The rationale for this was to avoid confusion by the recipient of such materials that in fact one is somehow communicating in a capacity as a lawyer rather than as a businessman. Legal advice can only be given to clients of the lawyer as a lawyer using their "attorney at law" letterhead stationery, and other business advice including accounting advice can only be given to a lawyer's accountant clients using nonlegal letterhead stationery. It is obvious that should it become necessary to render bona fide legal advice to accounting clients the use of "attorney at law" letterhead stationery would be ethically permissible.

The rationale behind the differences between the above-referenced opinions is that business cards and other forms of promotional advertisements are materially different than professional letterhead stationery. Business cards and other forms of non-misleading promotional materials may ethically include references to CPA status, while legal letterhead stationery should be void of any references to other business activities.



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