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Ethics Opinion

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October 15, 1982


    A lawyer may not participate in a trade exchange whose members offer their goods or services in exchange for goods or services to be provided by other participants, where (a) the relationship is tantamount to the compensation of another person or organization to recommend or secure the lawyer's employment by a client, or (b) the relationship involves sharing a legal fee with a nonlawyer.

    References: MCPR DR 2-103(B), DR 3-102(A); C-220.


A "trade exchange" whose individual or corporate members exchange goods or services for the goods or services of other members of the exchange, provides for an entry fee of $250.00. A member's name would be included on a list sent to members, and should any of the members claim services, a member would have the option of entering into an agreement with those members to have the fee paid either in cash or in "points." Points place a value on services for the purposes of exchanging those services with the goods or services of other members of the exchange. A lawyer wants to participate in the exchange.

We find this proposal indistinguishable from C-220. While there is no problem with accepting goods and services in lieu of a fee, and no advertising violation in the arrangement, MCPR DR 2-103(B) and DR 3-102(A) preclude the entry by a lawyer or law firm into such an arrangement. MCPR DR 2-103(B) states:

    "A lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value to a person or organization to recommend or secure his employment by a client . . . except that he may pay the usual and reasonable fees or dues charged by any of the organizations listed in DR 2-103(D)."

None of the exceptions to DR 2-103(D) appear applicable to this case. MCPR DR 3-102(A) forbids a lawyer or law firm from sharing legal fees with a nonlawyer. Payment by a lawyer of the trade exchange's initiation dues and transactions charges would constitute giving something of value to promote the lawyer's business and recommend the lawyer's employment.

This situation is distinguishable from the transaction fee charged by a credit card company, inasmuch as those organizations do not promote their members or customers even to the extent of circulating a list of customers who accept the credit card in payment. The "trade exchange" as we understand it would circulate a list of members who do accept such payment, and we believe this to violate the spirit and letter of DR 2-103(D).

Therefore, a lawyer's membership in a trade exchange would be more commercial than is permitted by the Code of Professional Responsibility and would violate the disciplinary rule discussed.



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