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                                         1 N.J.L. 18
                                        January 27, 1992

                                        130 N.J.L.J. 219
                                        January 20, 1992


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Targeted Direct-Mail Solicitation
Letters: Specific Events

    This matter originated as a grievance filed by the Committee against an attorney who sent targeted, direct-mail solicitation letters to commercial property owners in a certain county. The letters were not sent in response to a change in the tax ratio or a reassessment of property values in any given municipality. Rather, they were prompted by the current economic recession during which the county has "suffered one of the largest declines in property values in the country."
     The grievance alleged that the solicitation letters, in which the attorney offered to represent the property owners in tax appeals, failed to comply with RPC 7.3(b)(4). Specifically, the grievance alleged that the letters failed to prominently display the word "ADVERTISEMENT" in capital letters at the top of the first page of text and did not contain paragraphs concerning the importance of decisions regarding the choice of counsel and the reporting of inaccurate or misleading statements to the Committee on Attorney Advertising at the bottom of the last page of text.

    Upon completing its initial review, the Committee determined that the solicitation did, in fact, violate RPC 7.3(b)(4). In lieu of formal action, a letter was sent to Respondent requesting that he discontinue the use of these letters and agree to include the language required by the rule in all such future letters. Although this matter was ultimately disposed of informally, the Committee determined that the issues warranted a formal advisory opinion.
    RPC 7.3 provides
            (b) A lawyer shall not contact, or send written         communication to, a prospective client for the purpose of obtaining professional employment if:
            (4) the communication involves direct contact with
        a prospective client concerning a specific event when such    contact has pecuniary gain as a significant motive except that a lawyer may send a letter by mail to a prospective client in such circumstances provided that the letter:
            (i) bears the word "ADVERTISEMENT" prominently         displayed in capital letters at the top of the first page of text; and
            (ii) contains the following notice at the bottom of
        the last page of text: "Before making your choice of attorney, you should give this matter careful thought. The selection of an attorney is an important decision."; and
            (iii) contains an additional notice at the bottom of
        the last page of text that the recipient may, if the letter is inaccurate or misleading, report same to the Committee on Attorney Advertising, Hughes Justice Complex, CN 037, Trenton, New Jersey 08625. (emphasis supplied).
     An economic recession and a resulting decline in property values is a reflection of the overall condition of the economy and cannot be attributed to an individual catalytic event. Nevertheless, in the setting of attorney advertising, an event may be broadly construed to include situations, conditions or occurrences which now, or in the future will, give rise to a cause of action. Consequently, in situations such as this, where a cause of action may be attributable to a condition that has evolved gradually over a period of time, an attorney's solicitation letter must comply with the requirements of RPC 7.3(b)(4).

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