You have asked the Committee about the ethical propriety of distributing a flyer to people entering or leaving the Family Court Building. The flyer is to direct people to a phone number sponsored by a nonprofit organization to provide them with free information regarding domestic relations law. You specifically indicate that legal advice will not be provided those who call the number on the flyer.
First, the flyer itself must be examined to make sure that it does not violate any of the rules regarding attorney advertising found in Rules 7.1 to 7.7 since the caller will speak with you, an attorney, when the number listed on the flyer is called. Provided that the XYZ group is in fact incorporated as a nonprofit organization, and does provide information to those targeted by the organization's name, the flyer itself would appear to be in compliance with those rules, specifically Rule 7.1 in that it is not false or misleading, nor does it give rise to unrealistic expectations.
Second, and more importantly, is whether or not your participation in this program is aiding and abetting the unauthorized practice of law by XYZ corporation in violation of Rule 5.5a. You specifically note that you are not advising particular litigants as to how they should or should proceed in their specific matters. Rather, you are providing them as well as the public with legal information, such as many other public service organizations do on a daily basis. If the communication on behalf of the organization is not legal advice nor counseling, the Committee is of the opinion that you would not be in violation of Rule 5.5a. As an alternative, it would be permissible for you to refer callers to a volunteer attorney panel for further legal advice or to a Bar Association's Lawyer Referral and Information Service.
The Committee does have some concern regarding the potential for violation of the advertising and solicitation rules in this situation. If the organization is in fact a subterfuge for you to obtain clients, then the flyer violates Rule 7.1 and the fact that it is handed out in person also violates Rule 7.3 via Rule 8.4a (solicitation through an intermediary). In examining whether the situation you have might be considered such a subterfuge you should look at several factors including the number of calls you receive and the number that result in actual representation by you; whether only you take the calls, or other attorneys handle them at different times; and whether the organization functions only to give information, or also engages in other activities related to its stated purposes. The more an analysis of these factors as applied to your situation show that this is just a way for you to get clients, the more problematic are the concerns raised regarding Rules 7.1 and 7.3. The final analysis must be one done by you.
Finally, the Committee cautions that should any of these individuals desire that you represent them, you should confirm the existence of an attorney-client relationship directly with each one and comply with the requirements of Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5e.
The Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee provides, upon request, advice for lawyers facing or anticipating facing ethical dilemmas. Advice is based on the consideration of the facts of the particular inquirer's situation and the Rules of Professional Conduct as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Committee's opinions are advisory only and are based upon the facts set forth. The opinions are not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. They carry only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.