NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATIONProfessional
Ethics Committee Opinion
Opinion #80 - 06/06/1968
Modified by 416
Topic: Group legal service programs
Digest: Validity of group legal service program to handle
grievance claims of dissident union members
Canons: Former Canons 27, 35, 47
Dissident members of a union propose to organize a legal service
program for the sole purpose of providing for the efficient handling of
grievance claims on behalf of participating members. Grievance claims
would include both complaints against employers where the member was
dissatisfied with his union's handling of the matter, and complaints
against the union. Claims against employers would relate to such
matters as wages,
conditions, benefits, and lay-offs. Claims against the union would
relate to alleged failures by the union to handle adequately grievance
claims on behalf of members, or refusals by the union to permit members
to vote or run for office.
The Committee is asked whether a lawyer may ethically participate in
either of two alternative plans for the handling of such grievances.
The first plan would involve the establishment of a referral
service which would maintain a list of recommended lawyers, and would
charge members a fee for each referral. The fees of the
participating lawyers would be paid directly by the member whose case he
handles. Under the alternative plan, all participating members
would pay dues to the legal service organization, which would employ a
single lawyer on a salary basis to handle all grievance matters covered
by the plan.
The general principles governing approval of lawyer participation in
group legal service programs are set forth in our Opinion #76.
Both of the proposed plans appear to be consonent with the decisions of
the United States Supreme Court in United Mine Workers v. Illinois State
Bar Association, 389 U.S. 217 (1967); Railroad Trainmen v. Virginia
State Bar Association, 377 U.S. 1 (1964); and NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S.
415 (1963). Plans organized by dissident union members limited to
the handling of grievance claims of such members do not appear to be
distinguishable under these cases from plans organized by a union to
prosecute workmen's compensation claims or other personal injury claims
arising out of employment.
Of course, lawyers accepting referrals and employment under any such
group service program must comply with all professional standards and
canons which do not interfere with constitutionally guaranteed
rights. Thus a lawyer would not be justified in financing such a
program, either directly or indirectly. He could not solicit union
members either to join the plan or to refer grievance matters to him.
The program must be organized and operated so as to avoid problems of
conflict of interest. There must also be adequate assurance that the
plan will impair neither the lawyer's independence of professional
judgment nor his obligation of undivided fidelity to each individual