The Florida Bar
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PROFESSIONAL ETHICS OF THE FLORIDA BAR

OPINION 70-30
October 15, 1970

Note: This opinion was re-affirmed by the Professional Ethics Committee at its April 10, 2006 meeting.

A legal column written by an attorney for a newspaper should be limited to answering general questions.

CPR: EC 2-5; DR 2-104
Opinions: 64-79, 66-3; ABA 270

Chairman Massey stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar inquires as to the propriety of publishing a legal column in a newspaper. The attorney advises no biographical information about himself will be contained therein and that the following statements would be issued:

This column is published for the purposes of providing a general understanding of the law. It is in no way a substitute for individual legal consultation and anyone with a legal problem should consult their attorney. If you have a legal problem and do not know an attorney, call The ___________ Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service at (telephone number).

The inquiring attorney is on the staff of a legal service program; however, the newspaper advises the public that the attorney will answer legal questions submitted. Certain published articles were submitted for review by the Committee which illustrated the type of questions being answered. Examples of such questions are included herein:

Example 1:

Q. I pay my rent on the first day of each month in advance. I have no lease. Must the landlord give me notice if he wants me to move? Must I give the landlord the same notice if I want to move?

A. Yes to both questions. At least fifteen days advance notice is required if a landlord wants the tenant to move at the end of the month. Similarly, a tenant is required to give the same notice if he intends to move at the end of the month.

Example 2:

Q. My sister and I own a condominium apartment in both names. When we applied for homestead exemption, only my sister signed the application. I was right there but the clerk did not ask me to sign. Now we are told we have only one half exemption for the year.

A. Regrettable but true. Both owners must sign to obtain full exemption.

Example 3:

Q. I am 73 years old. My only income is a Social Security check of $120 monthly and I am rapidly using up my last few thousand dollars in the bank. Can I obtain an apartment in public housing?

A. The Referendum on Public Housing (200 units) has been approved by the vote on April 23. We suggest you make inquiry of the Housing Authority of Miami Beach, which has an office located in the Goodman Project, about an apartment. You must understand, however, that at the earliest, it will be eighteen months before the project is completed and that there will probably be five times as many applicants as apartments.

The Committee generally favors articles or columns designed to make readers aware of legal matters. However, the format of the column and questions being answered do not comport with the limitations properly indicated by the Code of Professional Responsibility, EC 2-5 and DR 2-104. The format is one which invites specific questions and apparently receives many of which exceed the limitations as prescribed. ABA Opinion 270, as supported and interpreted by Florida Opinions 64-79 and 66-3 [since withdrawn], finds that an attorney may not answer individual inquiries for legal advice through a newspaper column, even though the attorney remains anonymous. Only questions of general public interest will be answered, the readers will be cautioned not to rely on the answers but to consult their attorneys, and the column will be written in a lecture tone.

The Committee cautions the inquirer that legal columns must be limited to answering general questions. Further, the solicitations of inquiry in the newspaper should not be couched in terms which purport to invite specific legal questions.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]