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                                         114 N.J.L.J. 369
                                        October 11, 1984


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Law Firm Membership In An
Association Of Businesses

    The inquirer is considering having his law firm become a member of a business association which describes itself as a professional organization specifically structured to aid its members in the development of sales and marketing leads and contacts for business expansion. The association is, or will become, nationwide in scope, and the states in which it operates are divided into councils. The members of each council, through an exchange of information, familiarize themselves with the services and skills of other members of the council. This exchange of information at meetings is designed to generate business. The annual membership charge is $650. The councils meet regularly. A potential list of prospective products and service industry members represented runs the gamut from accounting to word processing services and includes "law firms".
    The council is so structured that no more than one business or profession will be admitted to membership. The members meet in small discussion groups and are asked to profile their skills and services. Members are permitted to ask for leads for future business. "Lead information" forms are used to refer potential clients or customers to other council members.

    In news releases, the President of the association states that the organization is specifically structured to aid its members in the development of leads and business contacts.
    The inquirer asks whether there is anything unethical in becoming a member of this group which is, obviously, organized for the purpose of promoting new business and client relationships.
    Since the opinion of the U. S. Supreme Court in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U. S. 350 (1977), lawyers have been permitted to advertise their services and seek clients in ways that were considered unethical prior to that opinion. Our Supreme Court in In re Professional Ethics Advisory Committee Opinion 475, 89 N.J. 74, 96 (1982) app. dism. sub. nom., Jacoby and Meyers v. Supreme Court of New Jersey, et. al., _ U.S. _, 203 S. Ct. 285, 74 L. Ed.2nd 272 (1982), said "[h]owever, we recognize that in an age of lawyer advertising, reputations will no longer develop exclusively by the word of satisfied clients. Both national firms and advertising in general provide potential benefits to New Jersey consumers of legal services."
    DR 2-103(A)* states "A lawyer may initiate personal contact with a prospective client for the purpose of obtaining professional employment subject to the requirements of paragraph (B)." There is nothing in subparagraph (B) which would preclude the inquirer's law firm from becoming a member of the association for the purposes of seeking new clients. DR 2-103(D)** says that:
        A lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value to a person or organization to recommend or secure his employment by a client, or, as a reward for having made a recommendation resulting in his employment by a client except that he may pay for public communications permitted by DR 2-101 and the usual and reasonable fees or dues charged by a lawyer referral service operated, sponsored, or approved by a bar association.

* now RPC 7.3(a)
** now RPC 7.3(d)

    We do not believe that, by joining the organization, the law firm is giving compensation to the organization to recommend or secure clients. The organization's purpose is to create a pool of individuals in industry, commerce and the professions in which business and professional men will meet and make known to each other their abilities and needs. This is not unlike what occurs in service clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, and similar organizations.
    We do not believe that the joining of such a group would violate the Disciplinary Rules.***

***Rules of Professional Conduct

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