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The Florida Bar
www.floridabar.org
PROFESSIONAL ETHICS OF THE FLORIDA BAR

OPINION 62-14
July 18, 1962

It is not improper for a lawyer to write articles for a weekly newspaper and answer general questions submitted by subscribers without in any way attempting to specifically advise them.

Canons: 27, 35, 40, 47
Opinions: ABA 92, 162, 270

Chairman Holcomb stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar requests an opinion of the Committee as to whether he and his partner may ethically write weekly articles for a weekly newspaper under the title of “Law Briefs” and answer general questions submitted by various subscribers in which they will deal only with general questions and in no way attempt to specifically advise the client.

Canon 40 of the Canons of Professional Ethics states:

A lawyer may with propriety write articles for publication in which he gives information upon the law; but he should not accept employment from such publications to advise inquirers in respect to their individual rights.

ABA Opinion 92 states:

Writing and selling for publication articles of a general nature on legal subjects, is not per se improper.

ABA Opinion 162 holds that:

It is not unethical for an attorney to write articles on legal subjects for magazines or newspapers, and the fact that publication is in a trade journal makes no difference.

It is unethical for an attorney to allow his name to be carried in a magazine or other publication, representing that he is attorney for a named organization and will furnish free legal advice to its members.

ABA Opinion 270 holds:

A lawyer may not answer, even anonymously, inquiries for advice as to individual rights through the medium of a newspaper column.

Drinker on Legal Ethics, on page 263 says:

“A lawyer may with propriety write articles for publication in which he gives information upon the law; but he should not accept employment from such publications to advise inquirers in respect to their individual rights.”

. . .

The application of Canon 40 to borderline cases always involves the question of good faith on the part of the lawyer and of the publisher or sponsor of the article or address.

The transgression of ethical principles primarily to be guarded against are:

(1) The improper advertisement of the lawyer. . .

(2) The giving by him of legal advice to persons with whom he has not the personal contact and background required between the lawyer and client to make his advice reliable. . .

(3) Enabling the lay publisher, sponsor, or broadcaster to give legal advice, constituting the unauthorized practice of law. . .

Whether or not the lawyer is paid for articles is not decisive.

. . .

It is believed that Canon 40 was designed primarily to sanction articles in law magazines or occasional articles in other publications and that it would be difficult if not impossible to conceive of a daily, weekly or monthly column in a newspaper or magazine devoted to the discussion of legal matters which would not, sooner or later, violate Canon 40 and also Canons 27, 35, and 47. What the readers of such columns want is not a general discussion such as they can find in a law book or in an article in a law magazine, but something practical which they can apply to their own personal experience. Laymen usually are unable to formulate questions clearly to such a column and a lawyer answering such is apt to follow what he thinks his readers want to hear about and to answer the personal problem which he sees behind their questions. This is what the publishers will ultimately see that they get.

The answer to the question appears clear. Within the limits expressed, the articles are not improper.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]