June 10, 1982
It is ethically inappropriate to disseminate advertising materials to targeted potential clients with an identified need for particular legal services.
An inquiry has been requested as to whether it is ethically proper to send an advertisement mailing to business entities noting the existence of individual specialized areas of a lawyer's firm practice, to wit: labor and tax law expertise. You admit that the subject mailings will not be sent to lawyers or current law firm clients. Rather, the addresses will be businesses who you believe may be desirous and in need of your specialized services.
Given the present status of the Advertising Rules, lawyers are free to disseminate just about any information concerning themselves and or their practices so long as the information is not false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive. The present status of the advertising rules permit lawyers to send their informative materials to individuals, 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. Given the instant fact situation, the undersigned opines that the expressed subject dissemination scheme is ethically inappropriate. C-218
supra specifically stated that "communications directed to targeted potential clients with an identified need for particular legal services, framed to elicit a direct response to the attorney-sender, constitute improper solicitation." To be permissible communications must be general in nature - making known the services available from the attorney-sender, along with such other information as maybe permitted within the purview of administrative order 1978-4 to wit: fees, costs, office hours, and credentials-leaving recipient wholly free to respond according to their own judgment.
In summary, your intended distribution scheme would violate existing standards of professional ethics.
This revision is to supplement the opinion previously issued which concluded that the "distribution scheme" your firm intends to embark upon would violate exiting standards of professional ethics.
While the statement of the ethical principle that "communications directed to targeted potential clients with an identified need for particular legal services, framed to elicit a direct response to the attorney-sender, constitute improper solicitation," the Committee cannot conclude based upon the facts presented that the distribution scheme you propose singles out any particular group with an identified need for the firm'' services. The Committee is of the opinion that you may circulate the brochure, provided the information contained therein is not "also, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive" and further provided it is not directed to persons having already identified needs for specific services. Emphasis added.
The admonition on the subject of "specialization" continues. The Code of Professional Responsibility only recognizes two areas of specialization, namely, patent and trademark and admiralty law.