NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATIONProfessional
Ethics Committee Opinion
Opinion #75 - 04/03/1968
Digest: May legal aid societies send letters informing indigent
clients that there is pending and eviction proceeding against them
Canon: Former Canon 27
The Legal Aid Society of Albany, Inc., has instituted a program
involving Tenant Notification of Eviction Proceedings. Procedures were
set up whereby the name and address of each respondent in a Summary
Dispossess Proceeding filed in court are obtained together with
'certain other information." Then, a form letter is sent to each
tenant respondent "Notifying them that an eviction proceeding has been
commenced; that there may be a good defense; suggesting that if the
tenant wishes to defend, he consult an attorney; and if he cannot afford
an attorney that he contact the Legal Aid Society of Albany."
The Committee is asked if the above procedures followed by the Legal
Aid Society are consistent with the Canons of
Ethics. An additional
inquiry is made as to whether the Committee's answer would "differ if
the address of respondents were screened to exclude those outside of the
low income areas of the city."
It is the opinion of the Committee that it would not be improper for
the Legal Aid Society to send an appropriate form letter intended to
achieve the purpose mentioned in the inquiry. It is, however, the
opinion of the Committee that any reference to the fact that "there may
be a good defense" should be deleted from the letter.
This inquiry involves an interpretation of Canon 27 concerning
solicitation. It has been held in the past that Bar Associations
may issue publications advising the layman of the importance of seeking
legal advice (ABA 121, 179, Jacksonville Bar Association v. Wilson, 102
So. (2) 292, Fla. 1958). The main purpose of the anti-solicitation
statute is to prevent commercialization of the legal profession.
The practice inquired about would not compromise this principle.
In fact, the Bar, by permitting the Society to do this, would be aiding
in the effort to provide legal services to the disadvantaged. (See 41
Notre Dame Lawyer 961).
The Committee believes that letters of this type should be sent only
to those who presumptively might be unable to pay for legal services,
Hence the letters should be forwarded only to residences of low income