Superceded by RI-49
April 24, 1980
A lawyer may mail a dignified card announcing the lawyer's withdrawal from one law firm, and the association with another law firm, to clients of the former firm, under circumstances where the lawyer had significant personal contact with the clients, by virtue of having worked on cases for the particular client over a period of time to warrant the conclusion that the client would have a legitimate interest in knowing of the lawyer's new association.
References: DR 2-102(A)(2); Supreme Court Administrative Order 1978-4.
You have asked this Committee to give you its opinion on whether or not it would be ethical for you to mail a card announcing your withdrawal from one law firm and your association with another law firm to all attorneys within your geographical area and to those clients on whose cases you worked during your tenure at the former firm.
In your request you state that you were a member of the firm of *** for a period of nine years. During you term with the *** firm, you performed legal services involving workmen's compensation cases and all types of personal injury cases. Many clients came to both the individual attorneys within the firm and also to the firm. In cases where the clients came directly to you, you handled the legal work, However, all contracts, medical releases, wage releases and other documents were done in the partnership name. On April 4, 1980, the *** partnership terminated upon your withdrawal. *** had an informal partnership agreement that made no deference "with regard to the handling of any cases brought in by the partnership or individuals." You state that you are currently a member of a new firm and propose to send the announcement of your new association to all lawyers within your geographical area and to those "client" on whose cases you worked on during the nine years with the *** firm. Your proposed announcement reads:
THE LAW FIRM OF G & E
130 North Park Street
A city in, Michigan
IS PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE THAT
Has become a partner and the
Firm Name will be known as
G, E & B
The Committee sees nothing ethically improper in the format of such an announcement. DR 2-102(A)(2) provides for "a brief professional announcement card stating new or changed associations or addresses, change of firm name, or similar matters pertaining to the professional office of a lawyer or law firm which may be mailed to lawyers, clients, former clients, personal friends, and relatives . . . ."
DR 2-102(A)(2) has been suspended and superceded by Supreme Court Administrative Order 1978-4. Under the new Administrative Directive, and form of advertising is permissible so long as it is not false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive. Assuming the information contained in your proposed announcement to be truthful, the type of card you propose satisfies the requirements of DR 2-102(A)(2) and Supreme Court administrative order 1978-4.
Turning to the recipients of your announcement, the Committee is of the opinion that it would be proper for you to mail the announcement to all of the attorneys in your geographical area.
Your next question asks whether or not it would be ethical to mail the announcement to "those clients on whose cases you worked on during your tenure at the *** firm." There is no formal or informal opinion directly on point. In CI-263, the Committee opined that it would not be ethical for an employed lawyer to send an announcement card to clients of the former employer even though the lawyer performed services for those clients. The rationale being that the "client" are in reality the clients of the former employer and not clients of the employed lawyer. This Committee has not previously expressed an opinion with respect to a withdrawing partner, however, the American Bar Association has considered the question.
In ABA Informal Opinion CI-681, the ABA held that a partner who withdrew from a partnership could send an announcement about his/her withdrawal and the opening of his or her private office to his or her own clients but not to those of the firm unless the lawyer's "relationship to the clients was sufficiently personal." This phrase requires more than working particular files and necessarily implies working on cases for clients under circumstances where the lawyer had considerable personal contact with the client over a period of time to warrant the conclusion that the client would have an interest in knowing of the lawyer's new association. The announcement should not be sent to clients of the former firm with whom the lawyer had no personal contact. In cases where the lawyer had insignificant personal contact with the client of the former firm, and it is not clear the client would have a legitimate interest in knowing of the lawyer's new association, the doubt should be resolved in favor of the former firm and the announcement should not be sent to those clients. It is proper to mail a dignified announcement to you own clients even though the various court pleadings and documents were signed with the firm name.