The Florida Bar

January 4, 1965

An attorney may write a column in a newspaper if such discussion is of general matters of law and does not advise on specific or individual problems.

Canons: 27, 35, 40, 47
Opinions: 61-40, 63-29; ABA 92, 162, 270

Chairman Smith stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar poses the following question:

An attorney has been asked to write a weekly column in a local newspaper for the purpose of generally informing the public as to the basic legal rights that the average citizen should be aware of. The column will not undertake to advise on any specific problem or answer any individual question that may be submitted. The object of the column will be to keep the discussion of the law general and as non-technical as possible.

Further, this attorney will be given no credit as an attorney nor will it in any way be indicated that he is a practicing member of the Bar.

We are asked if it would be proper for the attorney to write such a column.

In our Opinions 61-40 and 63-29 [since withdrawn] we said:

Canon 40 of the Canons of Professional Ethics states:

“A lawyer may with propriety write articles for publications 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 Opion 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 magazine 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 an 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, Legal Ethics, at page 263-64 says:
“A lawyer may with propriety write articles for publications in which he gives information upon the law; but he should not accept employment from such publications to advise inquires 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 transgressions 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 whome 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 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.

Within the limits expressed the articles or articles contemplated are not improper.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]