The Florida Bar

September 29, 1964

It is improper for a lawyer, employed full-time as an assistant city attorney and also serving as president of an association of city employees, to present the association's proposed amendment of the city's pension plan to municipal officials.

Caveat: This opinion's disapproval of union membership as such has been overruled by the Board of Governors. The BOG advisory ethics opinion follows Opinion 77-15 in this manual.

Canons: 6, 27, 35, 44
Opinions: ABA 275, ABA Informal 267

Chairman Smith stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar states he is employed full-time as an assistant city attorney. His position is classified within the civil service system of the municipality. He also serves as president of an association of city employees formed pursuant to the provisions of Florida Statute 839.221(2) (1963). The association desires to effect amendment of a city pension plan for employees and, as its president, he is expected to present the proposals for amendment to the municipal officers. He inquires if he may ethically do so.

It is the opinion of this Committee that the lawyer cannot ethically represent the interests of the association before the municipal officials. His position is such that he owes a professional obligation to the city as well as occupying a position of leadership in the association. The possibility of conflicting interests is imminent and obvious.

It is further the Committee's opinion that it is improper for him to be a member of the association, which appears to be a labor union or quite similar to one. Legal ethics authorities are unanimous and unequivocal in holding that a lawyer may not join a labor union. Drinker, Legal Ethics, page 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.

In Informal Opinion 267, ABA Opinions of Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances (1957), page 641, the American Bar Association holds: A lawyer may not join a union of the employer's employees.

ABA Opinion 275 deals with the propriety of a lawyer, employed full-time by an insurance company, joining a proposed labor union representing employees of the company. The opinion points especially to the possibility of a conflict of interests between the company and the union. It also stresses the lawyer's obligation to keep in confidence information gained from his employment. Canons 6, 27, 35 and 44 are treated as having possible pertinence.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]