88 N.J.L.J. 357
June 3, 1965
Motor Club Attorneys' List
An attorney requests an opinion concerning the propriety of
attorneys permitting their names to appear on a list published and
circulated by a motor club, which list is headed "Attorneys Who Have Agreed to Handle Automobile Property Damage Claims for Members of (name of club)." The list is made available to the members of the club.
The attorney poses the question because his client - a member of the club - desires to have him handle a claim rather than use the attorney whose name had been indicated by a branch office of the club.
With the list is a blank retainer agreement which the member may sign and which states in part, "Undersigned hereby retains the following attorney to collect Automobile Property Damage Claim." According to the instructions contained in the pamphlet in which the list is printed, the member may choose an attorney from the list, fill in the retainer agreement, attach it to the accident report with his estimate of damage or repair bill, and then send it to the local branch office of the club "for referral to attorney through (name of club) Legal Reimbursement Dept." Twenty of the 21 counties of the State are represented by the attorneys listed.
So far as it appears, this list is not an approved law list, and it, therefore, constitutes a violation of Canons of Professional Ethics, Canon 43 for an attorney to permit his name to appear on it. And, it is clear from the wording "Attorneys Who Have Agreed to Handle," etc. that the attorneys knew that their names were to appear in the pamphlet, which in turn was to be distributed to the club members.
This also constitutes a violation of Canon 27, since it becomes direct advertising. In a somewhat analogous case, where an underwriter insurance bureau wrote into policies the names of the attorneys selected in the localities wherein the insureds resided, directing them to communicate with such attorneys in case of accident or other problems under the policies, ABA Comm. on Professional Ethics and Grievances Opinion 137 (1935) held such publication of names to be unethical.
We do not view this as the type of situation such as was considered by the United States Supreme Court in Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Virginia, 377 U.S. 1, 84A S.Ct. 1113, 12 L.Ed. 2d 89 (1964).
For additional discussion of this problem, see Drinker, Legal Ethics 161 et seq. (1953).
Canon 46 does not aid the lawyers involved because, first, this is not an approved legal publication and, secondly, the specialized legal service offered is not from lawyer to lawyer, but
from lawyer to layman.
The practice of lawyers consenting to have their names listed in the publication in question is disapproved.