95 N.J.L.J. 1150
November 9, 1972
Candidate for Organization Office
An attorney of this State has been very active in a national service organization. He intends to run for district governor, an elective position in the organization. The home service club must pass a resolution endorsing the candidate and setting forth his qualifications. In addition thereto, a brochure is usually published in which the candidate's background and accomplishments are recited. The brochures are distributed only to members of the service organizations comprising the inquirer's constituency. The inquirer presents the following questions.
1. May a lawyer who purchases an ad in a service club's program book permit his name to appear as the donor with the designation "Esquire"?
2. Is it proper for an attorney who is a candidate for elective office to permit himself to be identified as a lawyer, together with a resume of his legal background, in a resolution and brochures prepared for distribution to his constituency in the organization?
The first inquiry has been answered in the negative by this Committee on numerous occasions, the most recent being Opinion 240, 95 N.J.L.J. 511 (1972).
The second inquiry, however, presents a generally recognized exception to the rule against professional self-laudation. Specifically, the question brings into consideration DR 2-101 of the Disciplinary Rules of the Code of Professional Responsibility of the American Bar Association as adopted by the Supreme Court of New Jersey on July 7, 1971, effective September 13, 1971. The pertinent portion of DR 2-101 states:
(B) A lawyer shall not publicize himself, his partner, or associate as a lawyer through newspaper or magazine advertisements, radio or television announcements, display advertisements in city or telephone directories, or other means of commercial publicity, nor shall he authorize or permit others to do so in his behalf except as permitted under DR 2-103. This does not prohibit limited and dignified identification of a lawyer as a lawyer as well as by name:
(1) In political advertisements when his professional status is germane to the political campaign or to a political issue.
Clearly DR 2-101 permits a lawyer to publicize his professional status where it is germane to a political campaign or issue and is done in a dignified and limited manner. The rationale for this exception to the general rule is the desirability of permitting a lawyer to present his credentials as a professional man where they reflect on his qualifications for political office. In this instance, the lawyer-candidate is not using the publicity then generated to solicit clients, but to offer his background and
experience as a reason for his particular competence for office. The fact that a lawyer receiving such publicity may induce lay persons to engage his services as a result thereof becomes secondary to the overriding consideration of informing the constituency. The attorney, however, is forewarned by DR 2-101 (B) that the manner must be dignified and limited in nature.
The American Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics has upheld the propriety of such publicity on numerous occasions. Thus, in Formal Opinion 74 (1932) the Committee was concerned with an attorney seeking an appointment as municipal solicitor. Although the Committee noted in that instance that the position could not be filled by anyone other than an attorney, the rule was subsequently broadened. In Informal Decision 656 (1963), the Committee, in an opinion solicited by an attorney campaigning for district attorney, concluded that it was not improper to send letters on his letterhead to prospective voters and to give his legal background. The opinion cites with approval Informal Decision C-230(b) (1961) which concerned a candidate for Congress identifying himself as a lawyer. In Informal Decision 795 (1965), the Committee refused to condemn statements by a lawyer-candidate which made reference to the "free legal services" he performed, although it did question the relevance of such statements.
The ethics of political publicity is also discussed in Drinker, Legal Ethics 248 (1953), as follows:
The 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, but he may not use his candidacy as an excuse for advertising that he is a lawyer.
Where the fact he is a lawyer makes him
more qualified for the position, however, he
may state he is a lawyer in any and all of his
campaign literature and advertisements.
Running for office is not solicitation.
The same rationale would apply whether the attorney-candidate is running for public office or elective office in a service organization.
Accordingly, in the present case it would not be improper for the attorney to permit himself to be identified as a lawyer together with a brief resume of his legal background. The attorney should make certain, however, that the resume is limited and dignified as required by the provisions of DR 2-101 (B).