Opinion 91-26
(December 1991)

You have asked for an opinion on the following facts: You are interested in providing legal advice through a "900" telephone service. You ask if this is permissible, if the service can be run with a trade name1 and should the client seek further legal service, if ethical problems would arise should the caller be referred to either a firm in which a principal of the phone service had an interest or to a firm in which such a principal did not have an interest. The Committee refers you to its Opinion 91-15 which addresses the ethical propriety of an attorney having a "900" service. That opinion is incorporated here by reference.

Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 7.5a provides in part that

A trade name may be used by a lawyer in private practice if it does not imply a connection with a government, government agency, or with a public or charitable legal services organizations and is not otherwise in violation of Rule7.1....

Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1 .7b provides in part that

A lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation of that client may be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client or to a third person or by the lawyer's own interests, unless:

(1) the lawyer reasonable believes the representation will not be adversely affected; and

(2) the client consents after full disclosure and consultation....

The Comment to that Rule provides in part that

Lawyer's Interests:

A lawyer may not allow related business interests to affect representation, for example, by referring clients to an enterprise in which the lawyer has an undisclosed interest....

This Committee has previously addressed the propriety of an attorney using a "900" service in opinion 91-15. As regards your use of a tradename for the service, Rule 7.5a would permit you to use a tradename provided it complied with the restrictions on such names as outlined in the Rule.

Regarding referral to a firm in which a principal of the telephone service did not have an interest, such referral would be permitted ethically, provided that if a referral fee is to be paid in connection with the referral, it is done in conjunction with the requirements of Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5e, specifically disclosure to and no objection from the client to the fee split, as well as a total fee which is neither excessive or illegal.

As regards referral to a firm in which a principal of the telephone service did have an interest, this would present a conflict under Rule 1 .7b, which can be overcome by compliance with Rules 1.7(b) (1) & (2) as noted above.

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.