98 N.J.L.J. 534
June 12, 1975
Advisor to Medical
Malpractice Newsletter and Seminars
The inquirer asks whether it is proper for him to accept a
retainer to serve as an attorney for a group of physicians which
intends to publish a "Malpractice Newsletter," which also plans to
sponsor periodic malpractice seminars for the subscribers who will
be primarily doctors and hospital administrators. The following
specific questions are asked:
1. May I serve as attorney to the group, particularly with reference to the technical legal aspects of the articles in the newsletter?
2. May my name appear in the newsletter indicating that I am the legal advisor?
3. May I periodically contribute a column concerning general principles of law; current legal trends; and discussing court decisions?
4. May I participate in the seminars sponsored by the group?
The inquirer quite properly calls attention to the language of the appropriate Ethical Consideration, EC 2-2, of the Code of Professional Responsibility which reads:
The legal profession should assist laymen to recognize legal problems because such problems may not be self-revealing and often are not timely noticed. Therefore, lawyers acting under proper auspices should encourage and participate in educational and public relations programs concerning our legal system with particular reference to legal problems that frequently arise. Such educational programs should be motivated by a desire to benefit the public rather than to obtain publicity or employment for particular lawyers. Examples of permissible activities include preparation of institutional advertisements and professional articles for lay publications and participation in seminars, lectures, and civic programs. But a lawyer who participates in such activities should shun personal publicity.
The balance is, of course, between the obligation of lawyers to educate the public generally on the one hand, and a duty on the part of the lawyer not to "advertise." In maintaining the nice balance between these responsibilities, it is not possible to establish fixed lines, and the test, we think, must be whether persons of ordinary sensibility would regard the conduct of the lawyer as dignified and in keeping with regular and accepted standards of professional conduct, or whether the conduct, in its setting, is essentially self-laudatory.
Because the balance between the proper conduct of an educational program for laymen and the proscription of advertising is so delicate, it is difficult to articulate any really helpful guidelines. As to the four particular questions submitted with this inquiry, we are satisfied that, in the abstract, the proposed conduct is permissible. At the same time, it is impossible for us to say that, in the performance of these activities the inquirer may not offend both the letter and spirit of DR 2-101 which forbids "professionally self-laudatory statements calculated to attract lay clients."