The Florida Bar
October 25, 1977
A member of The Florida Bar may not ethically join a labor union of lay and attorney employees if the union relates to his federal employer.

Note: This opinion has been superseded by the Board of Governors advisory opinion that follows immediately after Opinion 77-15.

Opinions: 64-57, ABA Formal 275, ABA Informal 267 and 986
Misc.: Drinker, Legal Ethics , p. 160

Vice Chairman Richman stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar asks whether he may ethically join a labor union of lay and attorney employees where such union relates to his employer, which is a federal agency.

The Committee believes that such conduct would not be ethical.

Under Opinion 64-57, the Committee held that it was improper for a lawyer, employed full-time as an assistant to [sic] city attorney, to be a member of an association of city employees. The opinion further held that it would be improper for the lawyer to act on behalf of the employees before the city, a matter that is not involved in this inquiry.

The former opinion which is adhered to herein is based on longstanding precedent. Drinker, Legal Ethics , p. 160, states: "A lawyer may not belong to a labor union which includes persons not lawyers. By so doing he surrenders his power of independent action." Similarly, in ABA Informal Opinion 267 it was stated that "a lawyer may not join a union of the employers and employees." ABA Formal Opinion 275, involving a lawyer employed full-time by an insurance company, similarly points out the possibility of a conflict of interest between the company and its union while stressing the importance of a lawyer's obligation to keep in confidence information gained from his employment.

The import of these precedents is the obvious divided loyalty of the lawyer-employee with respect to the employer and his membership in a union composed of both lawyer and lay employees.

The Committee notes, but need not and does not here address the subject of, ABA Informal Opinion 986 as to a lawyer who is a salaried employee of a single client, such as a governmental agency or a corporation, being a member of a union composed entirely of attorneys if certain stated conditions are observed as to complying with provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]