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                                             96 N.J.L.J. 754
                                            June 21, 1973


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Collection Letters
Client's Use of Lawyer's Stationery

    An attorney has been requested by a client to collect overdue accounts, in volume, consisting of small amounts, less than $25. The client will submit directly, to an individual retained by the attorney as an "independent contractor," the list of accounts to be collected. This so called "independent contractor" is to type headings on four different types of form letters which will contain the usual collection language. The debtors are located throughout the United States. The stationery to be used is that of the inquiring attorney. After the form letters are prepared by the "independent contractor" they are to be returned to the client for mailing because the client has sophisticated mailing equipment. There is a "reply to" address which is not that of the attorney, but rather the address of an office adjoining the client's business address with a street number different from that of the client. The replies are opened and reviewed by the client's staff. Payments and replies asking for clarification of the account are handled by the client. No litigation is anticipated, but the form letters, however, indicate that if the debt is not paid, suit will be commenced by a referral to an attorney in the debtor's jurisdiction.

    The inquiring attorney asks whether this relationship with a client constitutes professional and ethical practice. Obviously, it does not. It is a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility adopted by the Supreme Court, DR 1-102(A)(4):
        (A) A lawyer shall not:
            (4)    Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

Drinker, Legal Ethics 154 (1953), states:

            A lawyer may not send simulated court papers in demands from the debtor, or permit his client to send collection letters in the lawyer's name, or on his stationery.

    In A.B.A. Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances, Opinion 253 (1943), a local bar association asked if it would be ethical for an attorney to permit a client to send collection letters on the stationery of the attorney, and apparently over his signature, to customers whose accounts had become delinquent. The
Committee cited Canons of Professional Ethics, Canon 15 and its former Opinion 178 (1938), and held that it would be unethical for a lawyer to permit a client to send collection letters on his stationery. See Wise, Legal Ethics 224 (1970); Digest of Bar Association Ethics Opinions (1970) 3288, 3390 and 4381; 1970 Supplement to the Digest of Bar Association Ethics Opinions 5287, 5806 and 6012.

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