NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATIONProfessional
Ethics Committee Opinion
Opinion #20 – 12/10/1965
Topic: Advertising, Political Activity, Lawyer with Aspirations for
Digest: Improper for lawyer who aspires to public office to send
congratulatory messages to those personally unknown to him and with whom
the lawyer has no personal relations
Canon: Former Canon 27
A member has requested an opinion of this Committee concerning the
activities of an attorney in active practice, who aspires to public
office and who wishes to employ a means to keep his name before the
public. To do so, the attorney will clip and mail to the person
concerned, items of current interest which appear in the local
newspaper, particularly photographs, together with a short
congratulatory message. There appears no reference either on the
envelope or the message it contains, directly or indirectly, to the
nature of the attorney's profession and the return address on the
envelope carries his home rather than his business address.
We assume that the recipient of such newspaper clippings, sent by the
attorney with the congratulatory message, is personally unknown to the
attorney. The purpose of such mailing, as stated by the inquirer, is to
keep his name before the public inasmuch as he aspires for public
While a candidate for public office, who is a lawyer, may advise the
public of this when the office sought is one in which his legal training
adds to his qualifications to fill the office, he may not use the
candidacy as an excuse for advertising. (See LEGAL ETHICS by HENRY
S. DRINKER, page 248.) Also, we recognize that seeking election or
appointment to a public office such as can be filled only by an
attorney, is not solicitation of professional employment. (See
LEGAL ETHICS by HENRY S. DRINKER, page 220.)
Canon 27 in part states it is unprofessional to solicit directly or
indirectly professional employment by circulars, advertisements, through
touters or by personal, communication or interviews not warranted by
personal relations. A person's continuing interest in public affairs is
legitimately known to the community through service, whether
professional or non-professional in character. This is right and proper.
It does not justify an attorney in augmenting by artificial
stimulus the publicity normally resulting from what he does.
The words of Chief, Judge Hughes in SEMLER v. OREGON STATE BOARD OF
DENTAL EXAMINERS, 249 U.S. 608, 612 (1912) may well be applied to this
question, "… the community is concerned in providing safeguards
not only against deception, but against practices which would tend to
demoralize the profession by forcing its members into an unseemly
rivalry which would enlarge the opportunities of the least scrupulous.
What is generally called 'ethics' of the profession is but the
consensus of expert opinion as to the necessity of such standards."
For the reasons, above stated, and since in our opinion the proposed
action would constitute advertising, which is prohibited under the
Canons, the proposed activity would be improper.