Opinion 97-14
(November 1997)
This opinion addresses whether, and under what circumstances, an attorney's wife may send out the following letter to her current cosmetic customers on her husband's law office stationary.
Dear Cosmetics Customer,
I am writing to inform you that as of Wednesday, September 24, 1997, I will only be working part-time with cosmetics at the store at the mall. The reason for the change is because I have decided to return to school to obtain my paralegal certificate. This will better enable me to assist my husband with his law practice. He handles a wide variety of work, including but not limited to divorce, family and domestic matters, bankruptcies, real estate and landlord-tenant disputes, contract issues, legitimate personal injury cases, employment discrimination, will drafting, corporate work, tax appeals, and drunk driving along with other criminal defense work. If either of us may be of assistance to you we may be reached at the above-mentioned office number.
We will be having a lot of nice specials at the Cosmetics Counter in the upcoming months so I hope to see you before the Holidays!
Very truly yours,
Wife of Inquirer
The wife may send out such a letter as long as her lawyer husband carefully evaluates Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct 5.3, 7.1, 7.3, 7.4, and 7.6. Upon considering the rules it seems that some of the language of the letter may need to be revised.
The facts of this inquiry are generally summed up in the above proposed letter. The wife has been helping her husband's law practice, and now she is going to go to paralegal school to get additional training.
A number of professional conduct rules are potentially implicated. First, the inquirer must consider Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct 5.3, which governs an attorney's responsibilities regarding non-lawyer assistants. Since the wife works with the practice she is an assistant of the law practice and her husband would be required to properly supervise her activities with the practice and particularly to review and determine the propriety of this letter, which would be considered direct mail solicitation.
Direct mail solicitation is allowed as long as the dictates of Rule 7.3(b) and the other rules are followed. Specifically, direct mail should not be sent to anyone who is physically, emotionally or mentally incapable of exercising reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer. Rule 7.3(b)(1). Also, no mailing should be sent to anyone who expressed that they do not wish to receive such a mailing. Rule 7.3(b)(2). The inquirer should avoid being involved in communications that are misleading (Rule 7.1) and should change the wording of the letter in such a way to ensure that potential clients are not instructed to contact the wife for legal advice, since giving actual legal advice is solely in the domain of attorneys. Specifically, the Committee suggests that the last sentence of the first paragraph in the letter should be changed to read, "If he may be of assistance to you, he may be reached at the above-mentioned office number."
Finally, the Committee cautions that while it may be expressed that the husband practices in certain areas of law, it is important that he not be held out as an expert in any particular field unless the requirements of Rules 7.4 and/or 7.6 are specifically met.
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.