The Florida Bar

June 2, 1966

There is no impropriety in participation by an attorney in a legal aid program organized by a fraternal society, provided there would be no interference by the society with the attorney-client relationships.

Canon: 35

Chairman Kittleson stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar has requested the Committee's advice on participation in a proposed legal aid program under the auspices of a charitable organization, The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA). We understand the facts to be these. AHEPA is a well-known and established charitable and benevolent organization with chapters throughout the Western Hemisphere. Several attorneys, including the inquirer, are members of chapters in their county. AHEPA has under consideration a program to offer free legal services to needy persons who are related to members of the organization in this county. The legal services would be rendered by the lawyer-members and they would participate voluntarily on a rotation basis. The organization would establish guidelines regarding financial resources and ability to pay, and only those whose financial resources and ability is sufficiently low would be entitled to the free legal services.

We are not advised whether, under the program as proposed, the participating attorneys would be paid by the organization (or anyone else) for the legal services rendered to the recipients. For the purposes of this opinion, we assume that the lawyers will donate their services to further the fraternal and charitable purposes of the organization.

Canon 35, entitled “Intermediaries,” provides that the professional services of a lawyer should not be controlled by any lay agency, personal or corporate, which intervenes between client and lawyer; that a lawyer's responsibilities and qualifications are individual; and that a lawyer's relation to his client should be personal and his responsibility should be direct to the client. Canon 35 does provide, however, that charitable societies rendering aid to indigents are not deemed intermediaries.

Assuming that the situation meets the requirements of Canon 35, as expressed above, the Committee sees no problem of professional ethics, even though the organization does serve as the central point through which the needy persons reach the lawyer.

A rotation among interested and willing lawyers of assignments to render free legal services to deserving persons is not improper. But the participating lawyers will encounter problems of professional ethics if they use the program to attract and channel other professional employment to themselves; this could violate the ethical principles relating to advertising, solicitation, and lay intermediaries.

The Committee is aware of the opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States in NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415 (1963), and Brotherhood of R.R. Trainmen v. Virginia ex rel. Virginia State Bar, 377 U.S. 1 (1964). The committee does not readily see any direct application of the holdings in those cases to the question under consideration.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]