Opinion 91-15
(June 1991)

You have asked for an opinion regarding the ethical propriety of establishing a 900 number staffed by you and several other attorneys to speak to people who may have questions regarding the law. You would indicate that private attorneys would be answering the questions posed by the client and also that this is not a Bar Association project.

Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 provides that:

A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation necessary for the representation.

Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(b) provides that:

When the lawyer has not regularly represented the client, the basis or rate of the fee shall be communicated to the client, in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation.

The Committee finds nothing intrinsically impermissible in your plan to staff a 900 number. However, the Committee cautions you that communications that you have with the individuals using the phone number are confidential, and that you must be careful to avoid conflict of interest problems. You must have an adequate conflict of interest check system, as it is possible for both sides in a dispute to call your Service Clients using this service will be relying on the advice given them, and as such you should be sure that whoever is speaking with the clients complies with the competency requirements of Rule 1.1.

In addition, in order to comply with Rule 1.5b, any publicity and advertisements for this Service should contain clear and understandable language delineating what the fee charged will be for using the service. This is required because it will be the only opportunity that you have to advise the client in writing of your fees for this service. This is particularly important, as billing for the service will be through the telephone company, and not directly from your office.

The Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee provides, upon request, advice for lawyers facing or anticipating facing ethical dilemmas. Advice is based on the consideration of the facts of the particular inquirer's situation and the Rules of Professional Conduct as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Committee's opinions are advisory only and are based upon the facts set forth. The opinions are not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. They carry only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.